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Whately EMTs don’t want regional plan

Whately EMTs do not want to join their neighbors in Deerfield and Sunderland in a regionalized ambulance system.

That may not stop an ongoing effort to study the costs and potential benefits of regionalizing, but it is the first impediment those studying the idea have encountered since work began in June.

On Tuesday night, eight of the on-call EMTs in Whately, including Emergency Management Director Gary Stone, told their Selectboard they want to improve the town’s existing department rather than join the proposed regional department.

“When we first started the regional plan, it was more of the three towns helping each other out to have better response times,” Stone said. “They changed the game at the end. I don’t see how (a regional system) would be any better than us keeping our ambulance here and improving our response time here.”

The selectboards in Deerfield, Whately and Sunderland recently agreed to move forward with the plan and investigate the costs to implement a regional service.

The plan would be to set up a 24-hour, seven-day regional ambulance service based out of the South Deerfield Fire Station. The service would minimally staff a first call-first response Class 1 paramedic ambulance. Simultaneous or second calls would be managed by on-call personnel in the reserve ambulance, which would either be the Whately or Sunderland ambulance.

The oversight board — made up of the three town administrators — Bernie Kubiak, Lynn Sibley and Margaret Nartowicz — and the three EMS directors — Matt Russo, Gary Stone and Robert Ahearn — are charged with developing the details of a regional EMS service and coming up with a budget. The regional service would likely cost more to run than the existing departments. The hope is for a better service and quicker response times.

The group will produce an implementation report in April for residents to vote on later at special town meetings.

If no Whately

If Whately does not participate, Sunderland Town Administrator Margaret Nartowicz said, it would be possible for Deerfield and Sunderland to form a regional system alone. The Whately EMTs’ doubts also have no effect on what the oversight board has been tasked to do.

“It would be possible, but the three towns have been talking all along. The selectboards in each town did vote to have an implementation report presented on April 1,” Nartowicz said. “From (Sunderland’s) perspective, it has no bearing on what we’ve been asked to do for April. We’ll continue with the tasks assigned.”

Rather than join the regional service, the Whately EMS staff wants to improve its existing department by increasing incentives for personnel.

One incentive, Stone said, would be for the town to provide better pay for its 14 on-call staff members. Currently, Whately pays $13.94 per hour when an EMT responds to a call. In comparison, the Sunderland EMTs make $16.37 per hour. The Sunderland department is made up 20 paid on-call staff members. Deerfield EMTs make $24 per hour. There are 20 paid on-call staff in Deerfield.

Stone’s main concern is the way responses would be handled. In the regional system, the Whately ambulance would likely be dropped. Whately EMTs would be first responders to a scene and wait for the regional ambulance from Deerfield to arrive, Stone said.

“If we get rid of our ambulance, we only need first responders to go. I think an EMT will drop their license because all the hours required and they’d only be acting as first responders.”

Initial EMT basic training requires 140 hours in addition to a written and practical exam. To maintain this certification, EMTs must complete 72 or more hours of clinical classes every two years.

If Whately does not join the regional system, Stone did not rule out signing up for the service in the future.

“If we can’t improve the town department, we could join the regional system later on,” Stone said.

The Whately Board of Selectmen did not make a decision whether to opt out of the regional plan on Monday.

“The Selectboard is looking for more dollar figures on how much incentives would cost and for us to finalize the budget for the regional system to have better figures to compare,” Sibley said.

The future of Whately’s EMT department, however, is ultimately up to the townspeople.

The selectmen could make a decision to move forward with the regional plan and bring it to town meeting. The townspeople would then decide if they want to spend the additional money to have a regional department or keep the department as it is.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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