[UPDATED] Second Letter Emerges in EMS Saga

A letter undersigned by 50 Stratford EMS members supports restructuring the service.

Updated 10 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 11

A second letter that concerns the fate of Stratford EMS has been sent out to town officials and the community.

This one, unlike the first (read below), supports the direction of EMS director Philip Onofrio and his goal to create the position(s) of a paid or volunteer supervisor within the agency.

It is undersigned by 50 EMS members.

"The nature of EMS and public safety demands 24/7 supervision," Lt. Kevin Giasullo wrote. "Time periods exist in which 12-18 hours at a time are left with no EMS supervision except an 'officer on call.' Operational issues arise that demand the timeliness of having a supervisor on duty to respond."

[Read the letter in full by clicking on the attached PDF.]


Editor's note: This article has been updated to include comments from Stratford EMS director Philip Onofrio.

No internal cuts would happen as a result of the addition of one or more volunteer or paid supervisors at Stratford EMS, the agency's director Philip Onofrio said in an interview Thursday.

"I'm attempting to revitalize the volunteer component of the EMS," said Onofrio. Since he got the gig earlier this year, Onofrio said there's been an increase in new and returning EMS volunteers. 

The director said a volunteer supervisor would have more responsibilities than a volunteer lieutenant or captain. In order to hire a full-time paid EMS supervisor, Onofrio said he would have to "prove a return on the investment to the Town Council."

Earlier this week, four EMS volunteers released a letter that argued the new position(s) would result in cuts to volunteer personnel. The open letter reads: "Last Wednesday Philip Onofrio, the Director of Stratford EMS, informed the volunteer officers of Stratford EMS that their positions have been terminated effective in October."

Onofrio said, while he could see where the four EMS volunteers, including Capt. Jonathan Best, were coming from, "their representation was misleading and incorrect. I don't know what they feel the threat is," he said.

"By simply changing internal titles, the public is not at risk" and volunteers who are not selected for the new position(s) won't lose their spot at Stratford EMS, Onofrio said, adding that there are many agencies in the state that use the same system he is trying to implement.

"A vast majority of volunteer membership is in favor of reconstruction," he said.

The original story follows:

EMS volunteers and officers said they learned last week that come October their positions will be terminated.

"A management structure more common in the private commercial ambulance industry" will start to be implemented next month, they wrote in a letter to the town and the community at large.

The three lieutenants and one captain who undersigned the letter said the shift poses "serious concerns" to the welfare of the community. 

"The success of Stratford EMS has been based upon the dedication and contributions of volunteers at all levels," they wrote. "...EMS is not a bottomless pit of funds and the volunteer system is what makes it work."

Read the letter in full by clicking on the attached PDF.

Stratford Patch will continue to provide updates on this story as they are made available.

Jonathan Best September 28, 2011 at 03:38 PM
The truth hurts but the Stratford EMS I joined is dying. In 31 years of volunteering I have seen many things. To explain the present EMS Director wants a service he is comfortable with that is one which is paid and without volunteers. First the officers who give tremendous time to keep the place functioning and then the volunteers. I will continue to volunteer and it has nothing to do with position. I love this Town. I have done my duty and sounded the alarm and whatever you feel my motives may be you need to understand I have always placed the Town and the EMS first. So pick on me if it makes you more comfortable but as a town council and a community you have been advised
Jezebel282 September 28, 2011 at 03:51 PM
Mr. Best, Have you been fired? Can you identify ANY volunteer that has been fired? Can you even identify any volunteer that may be fired? Nobody is "picking" on you. You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts. The fact is that coverage in Stratford was horrible. There is no other way to say it. The fact is that it is better now. The fact is that the number of volunteers has significantly increased in the past few months. The fact is that the number of volunteer hours has also risen significantly. These are facts and cannot be disputed. Merely attend a Public Safety Committee meeting and confirm these facts for yourself.
George E. Mulligan September 28, 2011 at 05:29 PM
I do not know details within Stratford EMS. I support the volunteer EMS + Professional Fire & Police. - September 16th, I needed EMS from MED NOW. Thank you to all responders, especially Bob Calzone, Gavin Forrester, Cathy Coppola, David Dressler, Kevin Giasullo, Richard Marino. - Unpaid volunteers of EMS are a Town Treasure with superior care and talent. Amateurs do for love. Professionals do for compensation. - Regardless of merits of arguments posed: My experience: There are people who can profit from finders fees steering Town Assets to Professional companies, who charge high fees. Like extra TAX! Stratford EMS is free or low cost? I do not yet know? - II believe there are plans to sell things like the Water Pollution Plant, Long Beach West Airport expansion / pretext safety stealing 1 acre AVCO SAEP: worth BILLIONS SHAKESPEARE Theater potential revenue 7 to 8 figures. - Downtown Developmental Center will raise buildings to 4 stories. Generally my idea as Mayoral candidate = pandora's box. - Father Panick like possibilities on Stratford west side, because Developers need to kick out low income housing and move out of Bridgeport. State Democrats believe influx can make Stratford vote Democratic. - No fan of Stratford RTC who control Town Council, BoE, Zoning, Town Managers / Attorneys for 26 of 30 years? - State-Town Dem Committee R Burturla firm - continuous since 1996 1st year of DEFINED BENFIT PENSION, Hmmm?
Michael C Pekar Jr September 28, 2011 at 05:29 PM
I had the honor of being selected as the first Captain of Special Services (predecessor of Special Operations Div.) of Stratford VOLUNTEER Emergency Medical Service, along with Captain Jonathan Best as Captain of Operations. There were many highly qualified applicants for these positions as well as Lieutenant Positions. We were both selected on our unique qualifications and capabilities for the respective positions, and were complimented with highly qualified Lieutenants subordinated to us in a para-military structure, STANDARD in emergency services (Police, Fire, EMS), so it befuddles me why a Director of EMS (who I presume is an EMS professional) would eliminate this structure. I concur with my colleague’s assessment and suspect motivations other than the best interests of the community. While commercial services work well under a corporate structure, this form of management has no place in public emergency services as they are vastly different in their response, responsibilities and execution of their duties at an incident scene. Perhaps Mr. Onofrio is acting under political direction to pave the way for a commercial provider to replace a volunteer service? Hmmm, me thinks I smelled this odor before.........
Michael C Pekar Jr September 28, 2011 at 05:30 PM
Jons selection was made based on his years of experience in EMS and proven success in an administrative capacity. My selection was based on my local industry knowledge/ HAZMAT/ high angle-water rescue/ rural rescue-medicine and other experience and knowledge of Stratford’s diverse urban/suburban / industrial community and the broad challenges in emergency settings it could impose. These selections were qualification/dedication based and well made by Mr. Connery (EMS Administrator at that time) His choices were tested at such incidents as the Dodge Ave. plating company fire, Hurricane Gloria, the Grant St. paint shop fire and many others. Our combined knowledge and experiences allowed for proper response to these long duration incidents while providing complete Town EMS coverage, along with intimate knowledge of the incident scene and ability to mobilize resources necessary to mitigate the incident. (The dedication of a community volunteer vs. I’m just here for the paycheck) In these times of economic unrest, the Town is best served to cherish the uncompensated services of dedicated volunteers rather than creating unnecessary and unwanted paid positions detrimental to a very successful volunteer service. Michael C. Pekar Jr. (E.E./EMT-D/FF-II) Capt. Special Operations Div. (Ret)
Michael C Pekar Jr September 28, 2011 at 09:50 PM
Spot on as usual Andy
Gringo_man September 28, 2011 at 10:04 PM
And replacing the old officer system with people that will hold the title of "VOLUNTEER Supervisor".
Jezebel282 September 28, 2011 at 10:23 PM
Once again, nobody has been fired. Volunteer recruitment and hours are up. Coverage is better. Mutual Aid calls to commercial ambulance services are way down. That translates to better care and more revenue for the Town. What, exactly, is the problem here? A total of four volunteers are unhappy that there is a new director? Whose interest is being threatened here? If you really want to help, sign up and work on an ambulance: http://www.townofstratford.com/filestorage/1302/402/607/EMS_Volunteer_Application-full.pdf
Tom September 29, 2011 at 12:16 AM
Jez.. Whether you are a fan of EMS or not...whether you are a fan of 200k in EMS administrative costs or not... I still am wondering out loud as to why Mr Onofrio has upset the apple cart and changed the title of the positions?? Why?? for what purpose?? what is gained besides volunteers being upset or angry?? Do you know that only the undersigned are upset??? They are the leaders of the organization....perhaps they reflect the feelings of their members.
Mike Reynolds September 29, 2011 at 12:44 AM
I have been led to believe that those officers do not represent the feelings of the members.
Gringo_man September 29, 2011 at 12:47 AM
There are very few volunteers that are upset or angry by the changes. Since Mr. Onofrio has been the Director there has been an increase in the number hours that volunteers have been working. Recruitment and retention of volunteers is on the of the things that Mr. Onofrio has been putting a lot of energy in to. I'm willing to bet that if you FOI the records for the volunteers, particularly the 4 officers that signed the letter, you'll likely see that they are among the folks that provide the fewest hours of actual on an ambulance service time. If you look here: http://stratfordcharter.wordpress.com/2010/07/30/leave-a-number-were-busy/, you will also see that those 4 were the officers that allowed calls to roll to mutual aid while they stood by at EMS HQ (the old one at PD) on July 3, 2010. Maybe the town has finally seen that it's time to change something that obviously hasn't been functioning correctly (I doubt they would have hired a consultant to review EMS if there wasn't something wrong).
Gringo_man September 29, 2011 at 01:00 AM
Since the letter is full of inaccuracies and falsehoods, you should probably not be disgusted except by the misleading statements that Mr Best has made. Volunteers will continue to serve the town of Stratford with Stratford EMS and there will continue to be volunteer supervisors. They just won't carry the titles of "Lieutenant" and "Captain" and it won't be a permanent appointment. Maybe if these 4 officers had to reapply for their positions periodically, they would have provided more hours on an actual ambulance and not just coming in for the occasional meeting or when they could get face time on a camera for the press.
Jezebel282 September 29, 2011 at 11:12 AM
Tom, A "fan"? I don't have an EMS cap or T-shirt. What I do have is experience as a resident. I have sat with a relative in respiratory arrest and stood around for 15-20 minutes with the FD waiting for an ambulance to show up while listening to the gurgling and gasping. When an ambulance finally did show up it was an AMR ambulance responding to a mutual aid call (mine) because there was only a single Startford EMS crew working at 9:30 am on a weekday. As for the $200k in administrative costs, I completely disagree with that. However, the blame there lies squarely with John Harkins and not Phil Onofrio or even Donna Best (wait a minute....isn't she related to Jon Best somehow?).
Ron Moreau September 29, 2011 at 05:41 PM
Jez, As far as I'm concerned. If these changes increase life saving coverage for Stratford residents 24-7 365. I'm all for it.
Jezebel282 September 29, 2011 at 06:49 PM
Ron, I agree. But for all the nasty feelings this is meant to arouse, it is not much more than getting rid of a few Hall Monitors in Junior High School. There remains much more work to be done to enhance EMS. Field Training staff would be a great start. Perhaps even allowing more than 1 shirt and 1 pair of pants per year (gasp!). Winter clothing that fits would be another (cough) enhancement. That is if there are any funds left after Harkins is finished draining the EMS budget. That is much more of a threat than anything contained in Best's letter. OK, well, suing the Town, the mayor and the EMS Director doesn't help much either.
Tom September 30, 2011 at 12:30 PM
I must admit concept of a volunteer organization not being able to "govern" itself is a new concept for me....I'm all for supporting whatever the majority of members think is the right move. I'm concerned because I dont know if Mr Onofrio has ever managed a volunteer organization....quite a different management style.I would be concerned that his changes would dissuade the members and cause a collapse...but apparently that is not the case as alluded to.
Tom September 30, 2011 at 12:31 PM
PS 200k in Admin costs is waaaaaay to much Mr Mayor!...wake up
Gavin Forrester September 30, 2011 at 12:49 PM
John it's great to hear you are planning on continuing to volunteer for Stratford EMS because that means you will actually be racking up volunteer hours for on the road time working on an ambulance or fly car rather that earned your hours via staff meetings, mentoring the explorer post, or cooking breakfast during a tropical storm. I was wondering do you even have a blue shirt after your life time appointment as a volunteer captain or will you need a purchase order? If you ever need a partner to staff an ambulance give me a call.
Gavin Forrester September 30, 2011 at 12:55 PM
Tom There is an emphasis on recruiting and retaining volunteers under Mr. Onofrio's guidance and the level of both volunteer members and hours is increasing now that he is on board rather than decreasing or remaining stagnant under the Best Administration. When a bottleneck was occuring with the firm doing the back ground checks on new recruits Phil walked accross the street to the HR department and worked in conjunction with them in streamlining the process and now it doesn't take weeks or months to get people signed up. I would say in my opinion having worked with Stratford EMS for 24 years that Mr. Onofrio is the most volunteer friendly leader this department has had.
Tom September 30, 2011 at 01:15 PM
Thanks Gavin,,, considering your years in the service, I'll consider your comments regarding the operations under Mr Onofrio to be a-political. Apparently you're not a fan of Mr Best....understandable...obviously two opposing camps are present. Cheers
Mike Reynolds September 30, 2011 at 02:22 PM
Finally! Finally someone from EMS has the courage to stand up to Jon and Donna and tell it like it is. Someone who isn't afraid of Donna trying to punish him for speaking the truth or getting her lawyer involved. Someone who isn't intimidated by Jon "I was at L'Ambiance Plaza in 1987" Best. Good for you Gavin. The EMS volunteers owe you a debt of gratitude.
Gavin Forrester September 30, 2011 at 02:59 PM
Mike; It's just basic facts. As an example the number of volunteers putting in hours back in November 2009 was 74 and the number of hours donated was 1,522.14 (including meeting time) and that number has dropped to the low 50's prior to Mr. Onofrio's arrival. The latest report show an increase in new membership in excess of 50 applicants in various stages of approval and for August 2011 the volunteers putting in time (yes including meeting time) was 67 but the hours have jumped to 1,978.50 which is a 30% increase in time volunteered. He must be doing something right. Another fact, January 2011 there were 578 requests for service with SEMS covering 515 or 89% with AMR and other having to mutual aid 63 times. Fast forward to August 2011 (post Onofrio) and there were 509 requests for service and Stratford covered 483 which is a 95% coverage rate or a 6% increase with only 26 calls having to go to mutual aid and there were -0- paramedic intercepts in August which is an all time low. I'm not even getting into the administrative issues of non-compliance with OSHA and other requirements that had not previously been dealt with or the fact that the State Labor Board ruled against the Town of Stratford in the Jasinski termination case which could still potentially cost the taxpayers $$ to settle the wrongful termination case. That's why I made the motion to hire an outside consultant to review the operation of the dept (which eventually lead to me being investigated).
Mike Reynolds September 30, 2011 at 03:06 PM
Thank you Gavin. I hope your telling the truth in public like this doesn't lead to more Best persecution.
Tom September 30, 2011 at 04:30 PM
Thanks Gavin...if we could just trim some of the overhead or atleast spend it where it would do the most good.
George E. Mulligan September 30, 2011 at 04:55 PM
I believe Gavin & Tom Malloy are among Stratford politic's most intelligent people. - I disagree with many political decisions. That's OK = Subjective. - NEVER have I questioned Gavin's EMS devotion & civics. (I do tease Gavin) - I've known Gavin & Bob Calzone for about 8 & 10 years, thru politics. - They are passionate about the unpaid Volunteer EMS. - I have seen Gavin in uniform at Brakettes games, events like Stratford Day, & many other times. - Most recently on September 16 Gavin Forrester III, Bob Calzone, Cathy Coppola, David Dressler, Kevin Giasullo, & Richard Marino came to my aid at MED NOW - 1040 Barnum Avenue to take me to ST VINCENT'S Hospital. - I am Obese about 360 Lbs. They lifted me onto a gurney for my roller coaster (i am kidding) ride to ST V. (I called / tried to reach each to thank each of them & check to make sure no BAD BACKS or HERNIAS) - I would NOT let Bob treat me - ONLY not to muddy the Water, in that I believe I was poisoned September 12 (same symptoms as Dec 4 - analogous to described as ARSENIC POISONING) - ST VINCENT HOSPITAL needs fluids (Blood/Urine) with 24 hours of poisoning: TOXICOLOGY REPORT. - About 100 hours passed from when I believe I was poisoned. - Van & House Keys disappeared from my Van in last 6 weeks. NOT noticed until Discharged Sept 21. - I regard Politically Appointed RANK >Police >State Trooper >FBI (Bulger Buddies) >CT Prosecutors >US Attorneys >Judges as WORTHLESS. - I like Jon/Donna.
Gringo_man October 11, 2011 at 07:28 PM
It sure got quiet in here.
Rocky Vitale October 13, 2011 at 01:06 AM
As a "retired" member of Stratford EMS with over 30 years of service, I can attest first hand at the need for supervision especially on the overnight shift. One of the reasons I left the service was the amoral things that I observed and was powerless to stop. I must say it did not cause any detriment to patient care, the medical care is top notch. However, it discouraged new members from staying and was distasteful to a long time member. No matter how it is done, careful supervision is needed, first hand ride alongs and evaluations of both volunteer and paid members.
RC January 12, 2012 at 03:10 AM
After reading all the postings, this is doesn't surprise me at all. All the finger pointing needs to stop, and allow Mr. Onofrio the opportunity to do his job. I understand that change is not pleasant, but, once its change has occurred, you can either embrace it or then collectively and constructively make changes to tweak it. I understand that this service has been a mixed service for many years, but I do think that perhaps an evaluation of whether a split service ( paid and volunteer ) or an all paid service should be in place. I think that's what is expected when residents call for service. EMS is a PROFESSION, not something that we simply do in our spare time as a hobby. Would you call a plumber,or electrician who does it as a hobby to work on your home?? I really don't think so. I'm not bashing the spirit of volunteerism, perhaps keeping the volunteers available a a resource for staffing large events, stand by's and can ride along with the paid staff to gain experience. What happened to " Lets treat people like we would like our families to be treated. From what I've seen throughout my short time as a resident, I'm certainly NOT impressed. This certainly concerns me, as an EMS professional and RESIDENT. To be very honest, I'd be very hard pressed to call for service. Please remember" perception is reality! I certainly hope that some positive changes do come to Stratford EMS .
Jezebel282 January 12, 2012 at 12:54 PM
RC, I am honestly shocked and disappointed in your post. Having had the unfortunate experience of calling upon Stratford EMS on multiple occasions (nobody ever wants to call an ambulance) I can personally attest that the level of care provided was the highest possible. In fact there was absolutely no difference in the talent and effectiveness of either paid or volunteer crews. As an "EMS professional" you must certainly be aware of the training requirements for any EMT regardless of pay status: http://svemsassociation.com/Course/Course_Syllabus_Spring_2012.html. That doesn't include rigorous State and National testing. Having watched these dedicated citizens perform their skills for no pay, benefit or recognition, I can only come to the conclusion that we, as residents, are blessed by their presence. In fact, as so often was the case, after treating and transporting my patient, the crew would have left before I had the chance to thank them. As for "professionalism" being dictated by the enormous sum of $17-$21 per hour for EMT's, please feel free to request the services of AMR the next time you call Dispatch. I will be perfectly happy for myself to have the dedicated volunteers of Stratford EMS get here first and help me.
George E. Mulligan January 12, 2012 at 02:44 PM
Sept 16, I went to walk in clinic. MD told me I had leg infection & get to Hospital. EMS were tremendous. ST V. has remarkable Emergency room & staff. I knew 2 of the on call EMS Volunteers from politics. Gavin Forester III + Robert Calzone. Both have something like 20 years as volunteers. Bob had a great job with SO. CT. GAS. He now works with a professional Ambulance Service AND STILL DOES VOLUNTEER EMS. These people do for LOVE of PEOPLE, what some do for money. I'm not capable of doing EMS/EMT/MD/Nurse type work! I admire these people. They have to take certain training and must be certified & capable. They NEVER work alone. I believe there are normally at least 2 to usually 3 on each call. I have my learies, like everyone else related to volunteer vs. pros. There is a need for paid supervision. However the people who are the core volunteers, like what Mr. Donofrio did, but rebuffed an attempt at 4 paid supervisors. They are growing & improving. They want to add 1 paid supervisor at a time, as the revenues and services increase, as long as things continue to grow in the right direction. Stratford does have many good paid workers and managment. However the political parties get involved with electing people who want to move OUT some PEOPLE to move IN some PEOPLE. This infects POLICE, FIRE, EDUCATION, PUBLIC WORKS, & everywhere. If there were NO politics and NO abuses, then paid management would likely get more support.


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