Ambulance on its way to Turners Falls

TURNERS FALLS — The Fire Department could soon have an ambulance of its own, and at no cost to taxpayers.

The department has been awarded a $20,000 grant by the state Executive Office of Public Safety to buy and equip a used ambulance, with a little left over for potential repairs, according to Chief Robert Escott Jr.

Though Turners Falls and the rest of Montague are served by Baystate Health Ambulance, there are dozens of times every year when BHA is already tied up when a call comes in. In those instances, said Escott, ambulances from as far away as Northfield, Deerfield, Sunderland or Amherst are called to transport patients.

By the time they get there, the Fire Department is already on-scene with the rescue wagon, providing first responder medical care while awaiting a transport-capable rig.

Escott said that out of more than 900 calls for BHA to come to town last year, about 35 had to be deferred to mutual aid for transport.

In some of those cases, said Escott, patients may have to wait as long as 45 minutes from the time they called 911 until they’re loaded into an ambulance.

“This (proposal) has nothing to do with the quality of service from any ambulance coming to town,” said Escott.

October department logs showed that, on one call, mutual aid was requested from Deerfield and Sunderland, with no response, and a third call went to Northfield EMS, who arrived on scene 31 minutes after the 911 call came in.

With an ambulance of their own, emergency medical technicians with the Fire Department wouldn’t have to wait; they could load their patient up and head straight for the hospital.

Whether responding with the rescue wagon or an ambulance, Escott said the two on-duty firefighters go on the call, and a call goes out to off-duty personnel to cover the station for a minimum hour and a half of overtime pay.

Though an ambulance might use a little more gas taking a patient to the hospital than returning to the station, Escott said staffing expenses wouldn’t change when the ambulance responds to in-town calls.

“Any call in town that we would go to (with an ambulance) is one we already respond to as back-up,” said Escott.

Having an ambulance may result in out-of-town mutual aid calls, though, which the rescue wagon doesn’t currently respond to. That could result in calling off-duty firefighters to cover the station a few more times per year, Escott said. However, those overtime costs would be recouped from insurance if a patient is transported

For his financial models, Escott estimated ambulance service costs on the high side, assuming the highest rate of pay for called-back firefighters. Even so, if the department transported 60 patients per year, and only received 60 percent of what was billed, it would still be $708 in the black. If the ambulance made 60 transports and collected 100 percent of what was billed, it would net $10,473 after expenses.

Escott expects the ambulance could go on as many as 100 calls in a year, in and out of town.

The ability to bill for services would make the ambulance service self-sustaining. Any money left each year would be squirreled away toward replacement equipment or other capital expenses, the chief said.

But first, the department needs to buy an ambulance.

Friday, department members will take a ride to New Hampshire to kick the tires on a used 2001 Ford E450 ambulance. The ambulance is still in service in the Granite State, though it’s scheduled to be traded in by the end of the month.

That presents a unique opportunity for the department to buy the ambulance for $9,600, which Escott said is a steal.

At a special district meeting Tuesday the proposal was approved by a landslide.

If all goes well, Escott hopes to receive a license from the state and have the ambulance ready to respond by June or July.

Once the ambulance is ready, the department plans to turn its rescue truck into a brush truck.

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