District Attorney Brooks Baker spoke from personal experience.
“Having called an ambulance and had one not show up — it’s scary,” Baker said.

BATH | Steuben County lawmakers recently approved funding for a study of the county’s emergency medical response system — a system top officials say is “on the precipice” of being “broken.”

The $58,000 bid was approved for a study by the Center for Public Safety Management that will look at the entire response process, according to county Office of Emergency Services Director Tim Marshall.

“What dispatch does; is basic life support required or is advanced?; the time it takes; who responds; mutual aid; what happens pre-hospital? Everything,” Marshall told the Legislature’s Public Safety and Corrections Committee.

The county has been struggling with the issue for years — a combination of dwindling volunteer service, the increased difficulty of obtaining EMT certification and the state requirement for an EMT on scene before an injured person can be transported.

Legislator Robert Nichols of Tuscarora, who previously worked on an ambulance crew himself, said that requirement wasn’t in place back then — they just took people to the hospital.

“Now you’ve got to have an EMT or you can’t roll the rig,” Nichols said. “[The state rules say to] just let them lay out in the street and die because you don’t have an EMT. That’s what we’ve got today.”

He said he’s aware of at least two departments, including in his own town, that only have one certified EMT.

Legislator Steven Maio of Corning said when the county looked at the issue a few years ago they found many local volunteer response companies, of which the county has dozens, were “unable to muster any response at all.”

Marshall said that situation has been improved somewhat, with collaboration and better planning for departments to back each other up with mutual aid.

Legislature Chairman Joe Hauryski said the question, as always, will be how they make use of the results of the study.

“We spend oodles of money on studies, and at the end of the day, what have we done to implement?,” Hauryski said.

Committee Chairman John Malter of Perkinsville (Cohocton and Wayland) added that they’ll be faced with the question of how to fund any solutions suggested by the study.

Officials acknowledged one of the outcomes may be county government getting more directly involved in EMS response.

Marshall said Livingston County now has an integrated county-wide EMS system. He added that it hasn’t been a net cost for the county because they’re collecting the insurance payments from victims.

But County Manager Jack Wheeler noted that Livingston County is only one-third the size of Steuben County, and the distances involved in rural communities increase the cost of response.

He also said in Livingston County, communities with strong volunteer services already in place weren’t happy with county government stepping in.

Wheeler said another approach might be to work more with the paid ambulance services in the area.

“They’ve indicated they can fill the gap,” he said -- but that comes with its own costs, and impacts on volunteer responders.

Officials said they’re also still considering how the county Sheriff’s Office, now with deputies certified as EMTs, might be integrated into any steps they might take.

The question of what the actual solutions might be will have to wait six to eight months for the study to be completed.

But county officials seem certain that something needs to be done.

District Attorney Brooks Baker — at the meeting for an earlier discussion about new positions being created in the DA’s Office — spoke from personal experience.

“Having called an ambulance and had one not show up — it’s scary,” Baker said.

He was in a situation in Hammondsport where his wife collapsed while suffering from the flu, but they couldn’t get help.

Baker said that day, a neighbor who was an EMT happened to hear about the situation on a scanner radio and came over on their own to help.

Maio noted that the study report will only be data that lawmakers will have to interpret in a way they believe is best for the county.

“It’s going to be up to us to fix the problem,” he said.

Hauryski predicted given the size, population distribution and existing emergency response issues in the county, major action will probably be required.

“The county is going to end up in this business whether you like it or not,” he told the committee.