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Long Island Communities Face Major Volunteer Firefighter, EMT Shortage

ISLIP TERRACE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Volunteer fire and rescue services on Long Island are in need of more than a few good men and women.

As CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported, volunteerism is down, and one Long Island community as even had to change the way it handles medical emergencies.

Lee Neuman used to volunteer in her local ambulance corps. Now, she worries that if she herself is ever in need, an ambulance won't get to her in time.

"Seconds do count," Neuman said. "Seconds can mean the difference between life and death."

Her fire department in Islip Terrace is about to change who responds to medical emergencies. The fire protection district faces a shortage in responding EMT volunteers.

So Islip Terrace is disbanding its ambulance service for now -- directing 911 calls to this nearby community ambulance corps that already serves four other districts.

Critics are sounding the alarm.

"The response time is going to have to get longer," said Islip Terrace Fire Commissioner Tony Chiofalo. "The ambulance now is further away."

Islip Terrace is not alone. Across Long Island, medical emergency calls to 911 are up and volunteers are down.

"They can't handle the volume," Chiofalo said. "You got a lot of really dedicated, committed people, but it's very strained."

For years, Suffolk County communities relied solely on volunteers for ambulance services. But the economy took its toll on numbers.

Officials blame an exodus of youth, an aging population, Baby Boomers working two jobs, and changing values.

Chris Ciaccio knows the value of volunteering. He gives his time to the Commack ambulance corps.

"I work full time. I make my hours here, and I just recently bought a house," Ciaccio said. "It's a lot of commitments outside of this place, but if you really do like it, you stay and you make it work out."

Commack is one of the few districts that have not had to supplement the volunteers with paid staff.
The district has gotten creative -- accepting non-residents and assigning set shifts.

"They can schedule their time," said Richard O'Brien, chairman of the board for the Commack Volunteer Ambulance Corps. "They know they are not on a call 24/7."

Back in Islip Terrace, the department will stop taking emergency medical calls for one year, while officials say they'll work to boost the ranks.

The Chief of the Exchange Ambulance Corps told CBS2 it will be able to absorb the additional calls from Islip Terrace without problems.

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