A plan of correction in response to recent probation from the state Department of Public Health (DPH) has been submitted by New Milford Community Ambulance.

The plan is necessary as the result of a 36-month probation the state laid down on the local corps in October as a result of a February 2008 incident.

New Milford resident Marge Hapke had suffered a stroke on Feb. 25, 2008, and it took more than an hour for an ambulance to arrive at her home to transport her to the hospital.

On investigation of a complaint by her husband, Frank Hapke, the the state health office found that, during 2007 and 2008, New Milford had a "pattern of failures" in providing appropriately staffed responses to 911 calls.

That information came from the consent order issued by the DPH in October enforcing the probationary period.

"I'm glad they are finally doing something to improve service," Mrs. Hapke said upon hearing of the probation. "It should have been done years ago. It's unfortunate that it takes a crisis to make things happen."

The Plan of Correction cites a contract Community Ambulance entered into with Vintech Management Services in December 2008. Since January 2009, Vintech has supplied paid staffing for the weekday hours of 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

"That arrangement remains in force and will be renewed," the Plan of Correction, signed on Dec. 3 by ambulance crew president Andy Armstrong, states.

With the paid staffing implemented through the third quarter of 2009, just 18 ambulance calls had to be passed on to other towns, the plan said. That equals 1.4 percent of the incoming calls.

"Response time has improved dramatically," the plan states. "The latest figures available indicate 9.7 minutes for lights and siren responses and 10.5 minutes without."

The plan also notes the association will soon have use of a new ambulance barn, now 50 percent completed along Aspetuck Ridge Road, featuring a dormitory/bunk area that will permit "overnight coverage shifts to have personnel on site."

Also included in the plan is that "qualified rookie personnel" will now be deployed with a veteran, if necessary, "as opposed to prohibiting that deployment." This is designed to speed response and fully utilize the volunteer staff, the plan states.

A new state-certified EMSI/paramedic has been hired as the training officer for the corps. She has years of experience and served as a United States Naval Reserve Medical Corpsman. Her duty will begin in January.

It is anticipated that, with the new ambulance facility, the training officer, an electronic scheduling of all volunteer personnel, interest in becoming an ambulance volunteer will increase. The goal of the corps is to keep New Milford Community Ambulance primarily a volunteer service.

Attorney Randy DiBella, representing the ambulance association, said New Milford Ambulance acknowledged that what happened to Hapke had been unfortunate.

"But the way they (Community Ambulance) have addressed it, it should never happen again," Mr. DiBella said.