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South County EMS

Deerfield OKs EMS

SOUTH DEERFIELD — The South County Emergency Medical Service has become a reality.

The towns of Deerfield, Whately and Sunderland will no longer have to rely on volunteer on-call services licensed at the basic and intermediate levels. Rather, a paramedic will be scheduled to respond to calls across the 66-square-mile region 24 hours, seven days a week.

Ambulance trucks will likely begin responding from the South Deerfield fire station in January.

At a special town meeting Monday, the majority of 208 Deerfield voters approved the regional 24/7 paramedic service with Whately and Sunderland. The three towns have formed Franklin County’s first municipal paramedic service.

The town agreed to enter into an inter-municipal agreement with its partner towns and pay $255,488 for the first six months of the service. Deerfield will also serve as the fiscal agent.

Sunderland is paying $155,366 and Whately agreed to pay $82,735 for the first six months.

The full-year cost from July 2014 to June 2015 is $749,595.

The full-year individual town assessment is $387,990 for Deerfield, $235,972 for Sunderland and $125,632 for Whately. The cost is based on a formula combining each town’s population and its ability to pay.

The agreement will last for one year and is renewable each year for three successive years.

Deerfield was the last town to vote on the proposal after the two other towns overwhelmingly voted in support of it. The three votes were contingent on passage in all three towns.

At the same time, a plan to turn down the regional service for an enhanced town service failed to pass muster despite heated arguments in favor of it. The proposal was to upgrade the town service from an intermediate level service to paramedic and increase its coverage hours from 16 hours per day to 24 hours per day.

The cost difference to run its own service would have been $35,465 extra. The town-only service would not have had a back-up ambulance.

Selectmen Mark Gilmore and Carolyn Shores Ness supported the regional service.

“We’re recommending the regional approach because it is more sustainable,” said Shores Ness. “I think it’s worth a try. It gives us a chance to be more sustainable. We can’t stand around and beat our chests to get more votes. People’s lives are at stake. We have to try this.”

Some residents argued that with 51 percent of the cost, Deerfield should have more voting power on the Board of Oversight. Each town has two voting members on the board.

Finance Committee Chairman Albert Olmstead Jr. said he would ask the town to direct the selectmen to enter into negotiations with Whately and Sunderland to increase Deerfield’s voting membership on the board. The request came after the vote.

“We don’t have to kill the ambulance service to do it,” Olmstead said.

As the town readied to vote to finance the service, Finance Committee member Tom Clark warned the decision would bring the town closer to the Proposition 21∕2 override limit, a legal limit setting the allowable annual increase in taxes at 21∕2 percent for a municipal budget. If it exceeds that, an override vote is required.

“This will negatively impact our ability to adjust the tax rate. We’ll have less free cash as time goes. Just beware that this is not free,” Clark said.

The South County EMS becomes part of a long list of partnerships between the three towns from the senior center to the Frontier Regional School.

For more than two years, the three town Boards of Selectmen and ambulance directors have met to craft a regional plan to improve patient care and response time. The plan arose out of a request by the ambulance directors, who began to see a decline in volunteers and a sobering response time.

After months of negotiations, the final proposal is to have a full-time ambulance based at the South Deerfield fire station and a backup paramedic ambulance at the Sunderland Public Safety Complex. The location is temporary for up to three years until the towns find a permanent home. The service will gradually build up to eight full-time employees. One paramedic and one EMT will be scheduled per shift to cover the primary ambulance. On-call per-diem staff would cover the backup ambulance. The goal is to have the backup staffed by a paramedic as well, but there is no guarantee.

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