The Passaic County Sheriff’s Office recently unveiled a pilot program to provide ambulance services amid EMS volunteer shortages by relying on help from former corrections officers.
The program aims to attract former corrections officers with EMS certification to volunteer as paramedics.
Officials point to EMS volunteer shortages caused by the pandemic, as resources were shifted away from hiring personnel to instead pay for disposable masks and suits.
To fill the gaps in EMS personnel, New Jersey municipalities around Passaic County have come up with a creative solution.
The pilot program aims to address volunteer shortages by transitioning officers from corrections duties to ambulance calls and by capitalizing on a bill passed in February that allows counties to contribute more funds to first aid, ambulance and rescue squads.
“Volunteer shortages have clearly become an issue through many towns in Passaic County,” Sheriff Richard Berdnik said. “This program will give residents additional access to emergency services and also put more Sheriff’s Office assets out into our municipalities.”
The move comes after several New Jersey municipalities, such as North Haledon, dissolved their ambulance services.
Passaic County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Bill Maer has said that sheriff’s officers with EMT certification would assist with mutual aid response in Passaic County towns in case of shortages.
Maer said the program would not replace EMS volunteer agencies, but will provide “high-quality care and minimized response times” for calls.
Maer hopes that the program will attract new interest in the field.
“The long-term plan for the program, as current officers retire, is to bring on EMT students who are looking for careers in the field,” Maer said.
The pilot program currently runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and residents who make use of the program are not charged.
Maer said that EMS crews will go to all municipalities in the county.
“The PCSO EMS Division is assisting towns primarily with volunteer-based agencies and will assist any municipality in need,” Maer said.
Liam Glinane, a squad member and spokesman with private contractor West Milford First Aid, confirmed that there is a shortage of volunteers at the county level.
Glinane, who said that other counties are providing ambulances to assist volunteers for a charge, is not surprised that Passaic County is following suit.
“Atlantic Health Care operates an ambulance out of the West Milford First Aid Squad’s Newfoundland location,” Glinane added. He hopes that the volunteer service will be able to recruit new members at this year’s National Night Out in August.
Passaic Mayor Hector Lora said the program coincides with a decision to transfer some of the county’s jail inmates to Bergen County Jail, leaving some officers without a job.
The sheriff is also considering transferring correctional officers to patrol park areas or schools.
Passaic County purchased the ambulances for the program in 2019 and is currently ordering three new Ford Type 1 F-450 4×4 ambulances to expand the fleet to six.