Concerns mount about Flanders Northampton ambulance crew staffing

Susan Tocci of Flanders says her family has given more than 150 years of service to the Flanders Northampton Volunteer Ambulance, and that she herself rose up the ranks through every position, including chief.

Yet, she said, when her sister-in-law Patti Jo Tocci went into cardiac arrest last fall, no one from the ambulance corps answered the call. 

“My sister-in-law passed away and no ambulance showed up,” Ms. Tocci said last Wednesday at a special meeting in Flanders called by Southampton Town.

She said a paid employee of the ambulance unit was scheduled to be on duty at the time, but didn’t answer.

“Do you know why you’re not being sued right now, Flanders ambulance?” she asked. “Because it’s the Tocci family.”

Ms. Tocci said she still supports the ambulance, and that her comments were made as constructive criticism. 

“There isn’t a person here who is not trying to do the right thing. That’s why they are volunteering,” she said, adding that the ambulance corps has taken her father to the hospital many times. 

“My father is running you guys ragged,” she said. 

Ms. Tocci is not currently a member of the ambulance corps.

Flanders Northampton Volunteer Ambulance Corps chief Jeff Takamine acknowledged what happened and said he has no words for it. 

Southampton Town called for last week’s meeting to address with several issues, according to Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni, who was joined on the meeting panel by town emergency management administrator Ryan Murphy, former town controller Len Marchese and Mr. Takamine.

Mr. Marchese said he has been doing consulting work with the town, which asked him and Mr. Ryan to focus on its four unincorporated ambulance crews: Flanders Northampton, Hampton Bays, Southampton and Westhampton Beach. Other ambulance crews in Southampton Town are affiliated with villages or fire departments. 

Mr. Marchese said that for many years the town let these ambulance districts operate with relatively little oversight, even though, collectively, they cost the town from $4 million to $5 million per year. But about two years ago, he said, the town asked him and Mr. Ryan to perform regular reviews of the ambulance corps.

The Flanders Northampton Volunteer Ambulance — which covers Flanders, Riverside and Northampton — has been taking some criticism lately over the amounts it has allocated for salaries and for implementing third-party billing for four years ago. 

Its 2024 budget showed $560,000 in payroll expenses. However, Mr. Marchese said those numbers are lower than those of most ambulance crews on Long Island and that virtually every ambulance crew on Long Island now has some paid employees. 

“We have 18 paid employees,” Mr. Takamine said. “One of which is the district manager, and we have two paid housemen. The district manager, who is also a paramedic and the maintenance man, is paid $25 per hour.”

Mr. Takamine said EMT salaries for the FNVA range from $20,000 to $22,000 per year, while surrounding districts pay upwards of $25,000 per year.

“The paramedics in our agency make between $30,000 and $32,000 per year. Its surrounding districts are paying up to $39,000 per year. So regionally we are one of the lowest paid,” Mr. Takamine said.

Flanders Northampton Volunteer Ambulance has 67 members overall, officials said. 

“It’s going to hurt the community if you start paying people to respond to calls,” Mr. Takamine said. In the past, they had a man who worked as a “house man” at headquarters while answering calls for the ambulance corps.

Training to become an emergency medical technician takes 300 hours, while training to became a paramedic requires more than 1,500 hours, Mr. Takamine said.

As for the third-party billing, resident Richard Naso said former supervisor Jay Schneiderman “sold us a bill of goods about third-party billing, saying they are going to lower the impact on our tax bill. It hasn’t done any of that, and taxes keep going up.”

Mr. Naso also said his “biggest gripe” is with the salaries. 

“That budget should be 25% lower than it is, and they should do away with third-party billing,” he said.

In 2018, the Flanders Northampton Volunteer Ambulance Corps began billing the insurance companies of nonresidents who require ambulance service within the district.

Residents who live within the district don’t have to pay because they already pay in through their auto insurance, officials said. 

FNVA’s 2024 budget estimates the district will receive $200,000 from third-party billing. 

Some of the speakers last Wednesday said that what the district needs is more EMS and responders.

But ambulance officials said that could be difficult with the training requirements responders must go though to be certified, along with the fact that additional requirements could be coming in the future. 

The Flanders Northampton district is much smaller that the other unincorporated ambulance districts.

Mr. Marchese said the money raised through third-party billing should be to used to hire more paid personnel.

“There’s not enough volunteers, that’s the issue,” he said. “It’s hard to man equipment 24/7 in this environment without the use of paid staff.” 

Mr. Marchese also said that’s the case everywhere, not just Flanders. 

Mr. Schiavoni said many ambulance districts are going the “hybrid” mode, which is part volunteer and part paid.

Officials said the days or having all volunteers is becoming a thing of the past. 

“There are 109 fire departments and 27 ambulance districts in Suffolk County,” Mr. Marchese said, adding that not a single one of those 27 ambulance corps is “100% volunteer.”