In the months since ex-police chief and current East Hampton Village Mayor Jerry Larsen first started his needless campaign against the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association, one of the main public reactions has been, put simply, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. And yet, the mayor seems intent on fixing the membership, in a colloquial sense, for not going along with his whims. He has pointed to this or that reason for his desire to take over the ambulance association, but in the end, it appears to come down to money — and a deeply rooted desire for power in and of itself.
It was not difficult to see the troubling leanings in the mayor’s statements made recently on the issue. “Operational control can’t be a debatable issue. It can’t be the chief wants to do something that’s better for the community but if the membership doesn’t like it, they can vote it down,” he said. “There’s not going to be any more elections.” At other times, he has said he hoped to start charging patients for ambulance rides — a dubious income stream that would have serious, negative implications.
Mr. Larsen seems to be saying that if the ambulance volunteers do not give him the respect that he craves, he is, figuratively, going to burn the house down. This is a sad turning point in East Hampton, in which a petulant mayor is dead set against a longstanding community institution. Very oddly, though, Mr. Larsen has no such beef with the East Hampton Fire Department, whose members elect their own chiefs and deputies annually. Between the two, one key difference is obvious at a glance: The fire department is led by men, the ambulance association by women. Otherwise, the antipathy is inexplicable. The mayor has said that any of them who do not go along will have to turn in their equipment on May 1.
Many volunteers resisting the takeover have said they would resign. It is likely that the ambulance companies in East Hampton’s surrounding fire districts would welcome the displaced volunteers with open arms. Less than a third of the association’s annual emergency calls are actually within the village; the remainder are at addresses in the much larger general East Hampton area and in other departments, such as Springs and Sag Harbor, via the “mutual aid” system.
Paid emergency service providers are not necessarily better than volunteers in terms of patient care. Many volunteers have years, if not decades of training and experience, something a paramedic degree and police-style uniform do not necessarily provide. South Fork fire districts and villages have hired first responders in recent years to speed response times to 911 calls, but they must work hand in hand with volunteer emergency medical technicians and ambulance drivers. It would be vastly more expensive for East Hampton Village to suddenly go to an all-professional force.
There is no defensible reason for all of this and every reason not to go forward with such a drastic plan.