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Northfield, Erving ambulance talks continue

Bernardston, Gill may be interested  in joining talks  to share services

NORTHFIELD ­­— The town will continue to explore sharing an ambulance service with Erving, but may expand the discussion to include two more towns.

The towns are working to put together a joint committee to study the costs and benefits of sharing an ambulance service. But first, they must come up with a mission statement to define that committee’s goal.

Tuesday, Northfield’s Selectboard met with Eugene Klepadlo, chairman of the Erving Board of Selectmen, and Randy Wheelock, deputy chief of Northfield Emergency Medical Services, to determine how broad of a partnership they should look into.

Tom Hutcheson, Northfield town administrator, said he’d gotten word that Bernardston and Gill may be interested in joining the pending partnership.

Wheelock and Klepadlo agreed that it may be worth exploring in the future, but it would be best to finish exploring a partnership between Northfield and Erving first.

“I think if (Bernardston and Gill) want to participate, that’s great, and we could bring it into the discussion,” said Wheelock. “But we need to solve what we started with Erving first.”

Selectboard member Dan Gray, who supported the partnership since it was brought to the board in May, agreed with Wheelock and Klepadlo.

“I’m not opposed (to exploring a four-town partnership), but I think we need to resolve what we’ve taken on already,” said Gray.

Wheelock said many county towns are concerned with the service provided by Baystate Health Ambulance, which serves most of the county. So, he said, Northfield EMS Chief Mark Fortier asked nearby towns if they’d be interested in the partnership, just to feel it out.

“It would be a huge undertaking to bring a regional EMS service to these towns,” said Wheelock.

In the spring, Fortier was approached by Erving Fire Chief Almon “Bud” Meattey, who asked if the town would like to replace Baystate Health Ambulance as the primary provider for the Ervingside section of town.

Northfield’s Selectboard was divided when the issue was first brought up in May. Two of three members opposed the idea of a shared service.

Then, board members Jack Spanbauer and Kathy Wright said they were concerned that ambulance response in town would be delayed if the ambulance was out of town on a call.

Fortier told them his department routinely responds to out-of-town incidents when called to do so, and informed them that Ervingside sees an average of three ambulance calls every two weeks.

He also noted that there are several times during the year that an out-of-town ambulance must respond to a Northfield call, whether the town’s ambulance is out for maintenance, or on an out-of-town call itself.

Though the Selectboard was divided over entering a partnership with Erving, they agreed to form a committee to explore it.

Since then, Erving officials have talked about the possibility of helping buy the service a second ambulance. They said they’d like their town to be seen as a partner and investor in Northfield EMS, rather than just a user.

Northfield EMS is a self-sustaining department. Payments for services rendered go into an account, or “enterprise fund,” from which the department pays for its own operation. For the department to continue generating revenue that it can use to purchase additional or replacement equipment and vehicles, Fortier said it needs to respond to more calls.

The partnership would help by generating about $37,000 a year in revenue, after expenses, said Fortier.

In May, Fortier said he would also like to eventually have the department certified to provide an “advanced life support,” or paramedic, level of service. It is currently cleared to provide basic life support services, but often has to rely on paramedics from Baystate or other ALS-level ambulance companies, if advanced treatment is needed.

Many of the town’s EMTs work for other departments as well, where they are certified to provide paramedic service.

Replacing Baystate as the primary provider for Ervingside would help do that, said Fortier.

Recently, Northfield’s Selectboard gave the town’s EMS Department the go-ahead to rent a former Main Street gas station to use as its headquarters. The attached garage has two bays — room for the current ambulance and another one.

The lease begins in December, but there are a few minor things that need to be done to the building before the EMS department moves out of the fire station basement and into its new digs.

Soon, Northfield Selectboard member Dan Gray, Klepadlo, and public safety officials from both towns will sit down and hammer out the committee’s mission statement.

Klepadlo said he hoped for that meeting to take place Thursday, but Fortier was unable to make it. Klepadlo said Tuesday that he would like to meet with Fortier and the others next week.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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