It’s dangerous out there.
That’s the sense of anyone who has kept up with the news lately, and that’s also the sense of paramedics working in the Community Emergency Corps in Ballston Spa. They know they might be called on to run into volatile, dangerous situations to help wounded, just like police officers. But unlike police, they don’t have the protection of bulletproof body armor.
That’s why the company is seeking grant money to buy armor for its members. It’s not an unusual goal, company members said.
“There is a push toward tactical EMS,” said Ray Ott, of Community Emergency Corps. “We’re the ones who will be giving medical care to wounded people as quickly as possible.”
Ott cited mass shooting situations in which paramedics might be going into active shooter situations right behind police. He referenced Columbine, in particular.
“The police couldn’t help the wounded,” he said. “A number of them bled out.”
The ambulance corps sits right in the middle of Ballston Spa and serves a district with facilities and buildings that could quickly become targets. Among them are the Saratoga County jail, the county seat, the county courthouse as well as Ketterling and area schools.
“It’s a hot button for municipalities to have body armor,” said Ott. “It is especially so for Ballston Spa. If something happens at the jail or the county courthouse, we would be the first line of EMS support to come in. Logic says we should be equipped to provide the service.”
Making the purchase happen isn’t as easy as making the decision, though. The body armor costs $600 a piece and Ott is looking to purchase 16 to 20. He’s seeking grant money to make the purchase.
“Which is another problem,” said Ott. “Grants that allow the purchase of body armor are geared towards police and fire departments. We are neither.”
Ott said he has sent letters to Rep. Paul Tonko, Senator Hugh Farley, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and other politicians. In addition, Ott said he has talked with Saratoga County District County Attorney James Murphy and Saratoga County Sheriff James Bowen.
“The problem is that EMS first responders are the redheaded stepchild,” said Ott. “The money is harder to come by.
Ballston Spa Police Chief Charles Koenig is in favor of the EMS wearing body armor.
“Any first responder in this day and age that has proper protection is a good thing,” said Koenig.
The body armor the company is seeking would protect the core of the body and most of the sides from most common bullets. There is also a knife shield, which Ott is especially concerned about because of a recent incident in which a mental health patient was being transferred to the hospital and a knife was discovered on their person.
Ott said he is not giving up to get financing.
“The crew wants them so bad they’re trying to work it out so they take their $100 uniform allowance and finance the rest through us,” he said.
Ballston Spa’s Community Emergency Corps operates on paid labor. For company member Tanya Rook, the issue of body armor comes out to much more than dollars and cents.
“We never know what situation we will run into,” she said. “I want to go home to my family. I don’t want to be one of those statistics.”
Corps lobbies for support program
Ott is also concerned about the absence of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in Saratoga County that would cover treatment for ailments or afflictions resulting from the stressors of an emergency service job. Ott feels this is important for the same reasons for having body armor.
“We used to have county crisis intervention,” he said. “I was told it no longer exists.”
Ott said that Saratoga Hospital has EAP program and extended services and that got him thinking.
“EAP provides all kinds of assistance to people in need,” he said. “We used to have a peer group and people could call a member of the team and talk it out.”
Ott said he spoke to the County Administrators Group, which is made up of all the ambulance services in the county. The group settled on Capital EAP to provide the service because “it provided the best bang for the buck.” He is going one step further and reaching out to Halfmoon Supervisor Mindy Wormuth, who is head of the county’s Public Safety Committee. Ott feels if all county employees would get on board, it will make the rate go down.
Wormuth said she would be looking at the situation as chairwoman of the committee and will try to look at the best way to provide services.
“We want to support our volunteers as well as paid public safety workers in the best way we can,” she said. “I commend Ray for following through on this.”
The cost of EAP coverage within the ambulance corps department is $36 per employee and comes directly out of insurance, without any cost to the employee. Ott hopes if it is offered county wide, it could come out of the county budget.
“I want to make it available to everyone in the county,” said Ott. “I believe in it very strongly. I know the lives first responders live.”