Following a council meeting earlier this month in which a number of Ortley Beach residents lobbied for a permanent EMS presence on the barrier island portion of Toms River, officials said there are tentative plans in place to regionalize EMS coverage on the island.
Toms River, for its part, will now permanently keep an ambulance on the island from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, said Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill.
“After the last meeting, I requested an evaluation of our EMS situation, and we’re going to be stationing an ambulance from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the barrier island,” he said.
Hill said he also reached out to Ocean County Sheriff Michael Mastronardy, head of the county’s Office of Emergency Management, as well as County Commissioner Gary Quinn. The county, they said, is gearing up to establish its own EMS presence in certain areas, one of which would be the northern barrier island.
“They’re working on an Ocean County regional EMS where there would be one ambulance on the barrier island, one in the Berkeley-Stafford area and another south in Little Egg Harbor and Tuckerton,” said Hill.
Additionally, the mayor said, he placed a call to a state shared services office to check on the availability of state funds to help island towns meet their EMS needs.
“They recommended a study, that they will fund, on the feasibility of shared services of EMS within the barrier island communities,” said Hill, pledging to bring the matter up with other island mayors during an upcoming periodic meeting between the coastal mayors. “We worked together on the beach replenishment, and I think this might be another opportunity to work among the seven or eight towns on the barrier island for permanent coverage – until the county can take it over under a regional program.”
The barrier island’s EMS coverage has become an issue for communities as volunteer squads have disappeared in recent years. Two squads which served Toms River’s portion of the island, Ortley Beach First Aid and Dover-Brick First Aid (in Normandy Beach) have both been shuttered. Ortley Beach’s squad building was replaced with pickleball courts, while Dover-Brick’s property was sold to a developer of single-family homes, with the proceeds having been donated to Ocean County College’s nursing and public health programs.
Brick Township has converted to a completely paid, professional EMS squad under the auspices of the police department, while Toms River utilizes a mix of paid Toms River Police EMS units and some volunteer squads that still operate on the mainland. Lavallette is the sole community to maintain a fully-volunteer squad, while Seaside Heights, Seaside Park and South Seaside Park are served by Tri-Boro EMS, which consists of a mix of paid and volunteer EMTs.
Hill’s opponent in a contentious Republican primary election, Geraldine Ambrosio, said after the meeting, in a statement, that “wasteful spending” could be cut in order to provide extra EMS coverage to island communities.
“Every single Toms River resident deserves quick and efficient ambulance service all day long, every day,” Ambrosio said. “Hill’s offer for partial service is an insult to every taxpayer on the beach.”
At the last meeting, where the issue was first brought up by residents, officials said the issue of adding EMS coverage was less about funding, and more linked to the inability to attract qualified candidates to fill EMT positions.
“EMS in this country is a disaster,” said Councilman Kevin Geoghegan. “No one wants to go into that field anymore. I understand the concerns, but it happens not only across the township, nor the county, but the entire state, every day.”
Geoghegan said despite tremendous growth, there were more EMTs serving in Ocean County in 2002 than in 2023.
Ambrosio suggested cuts be made to the township’s public relations budget, which funds a periodic newsletter, a contract with a PR firm linked to state Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) as well as a public information officer at town hall.