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Northfield EMS proposes paramedic service

Mark Fortier, EMS chief in Northfield, stands in front of the 1993 ambulance they acquired.   
Recorder/Paul Franz

Mark Fortier, EMS chief in Northfield, stands in front of the 1993 ambulance they acquired. Recorder/Paul Franz

NORTHFIELD — The town’s Emergency Medical Services Department seeks the Selectboard’s support to upgrade to the paramedic level.

The department will ask the Selectboard to endorse its proposed upgrade at the board’s next meeting at 7 p.m., Feb. 4 in Town Hall.

EMS Chief Mark Fortier asks that residents share their opinions on the upgrade with the board.

The department currently operates at the “advanced life support intermediate” level, one step below paramedic. The designation is soon to be dispensed with, however, as the state adopts federal emergency medical service standards.

Northfield’s options are to either take a step backward to basic life support service, advance to the “advanced EMT level,” or step all the way up to paramedic level.

Many of the department’s EMTs work for other EMS departments, where they are already licensed as paramedics, said Fortier. However, since Northfield EMS is not a paramedic-level service, they cannot act as paramedics when working for the town.

“It’s frustrating, having that training and not being able to use it,” said Fortier. “Last (fiscal) year alone, the enterprise fund paid $21,825 to other paramedic services to provide care that our own staff is trained to provide.”

The chief also works for the Orange Fire Department and can perform paramedic procedures while working for that town.

Fortier said all Northfield needs to start the move to a paramedic-level service is the support of the Selectboard. He said it could cut down on intercept calls by as much as 60 percent.

The state requires that a paramedic-level service be staffed by a paramedic for 40 hours per week at $15 per hour. Fortier and his department have put together a plan to provide that coverage with several part-time, non-benefitted workers. He said they can provide community outreach work and handle administrative tasks while waiting for a call to come in.

“I have three people who are Massachusetts-registered paramedics who are looking to pick up shifts,” Fortier told the Selectboard. “These people are local. They’re already in the area and they want to help.”

A paramedic-level ambulance must also carry narcotics and other medications Northfield EMS currently doesn’t have.

Fortier said he has been in talks with the pharmacy at Baystate Franklin Medical Center, which may be willing to donate an initial supply of drugs to Northfield EMS. The department would then have to purchase replacements for anything used, to keep the ambulances fully stocked.

Failing such an agreement, Fortier said an initial stock of medications would cost up to $2,500.

For now, calls requiring paramedics will continue to be handled via “intercept.” Northfield EMTs can handle the initial response, but a paramedic from BHA or another ambulance service meets up with them, either taking over transport or hopping aboard Northfield’s ambulance to provide the higher-level service.

Either way, Northfield EMS must pay the intercepting agency for its services. If the town’s ambulance provided paramedic-level service, it would be able to avoid paying for intercepts.

Second ambulance now in service

Another recent development should help the department earn more revenue.

A recently acquired second ambulance will enable Northfield EMTs to respond to simultaneous calls. The more calls the department can respond to, the more revenue it generates. The ambulance recently passed inspection by the state Office of Emergency Medical Services, and has been in service for one week.

Northfield EMS is a self-sustaining department. It bills patients and insurers for services rendered, and deposits payments into an “enterprise fund.” The fund is used for the department’s operating and capital expenses, so the department can be run without tax money.

The voters have oversight of the enterprise fund, since the department’s annual budget and capital requests must be approved at town meeting.

Since it’s been run on an enterprise fund, Fortier said the department’s revenue has exceeded its expenses. The department has had a net profit of about $45,000 in the last three years, said Fortier.

The “new” ambulance was donated to Northfield by the town of Rochester. Though it’s more than 20 years old, the ambulance is in good shape, according to EMS Chief Mark Fortier.

The vehicle’s ambulance body is its most expensive feature. It could be reused on a new chassis, should the 1993 Ford F-350 chassis underneath it reach the end of its useful life, unlike the body of the town’s van-style primary ambulance.

For now, the second vehicle will serve as a backup ambulance. It will be used when the primary ambulance is already on a call, or out of commission for maintenance or repairs.

Before the second ambulance was placed in service, the town had to rely on Greenfield-based Baystate Health Ambulance or nearby town-run ambulance services when Northfield’s single ambulance was unavailable.

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

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