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Regional EMS to be temporarily centered in South Deerfield

DEERFIELD — The proposed regional paramedic ambulance service in southern Franklin County would temporarily be centered in the South Deerfield Fire District with a second back up ambulance in the Sunderland Public Safety Complex.

The regional EMS working group — made up of town administrators, selectmen and fire and ambulance directors — agreed on the station’s location on Monday, bringing it one step closer to finishing its proposal to create a 24/7 paramedic ambulance service for the towns of Deerfield, Whately and Sunderland.

According to Deerfield Selectmen’s Chairman Mark Gilmore, the South Deerfield Fire District Prudential Committee agreed to allow the regional service to house one ambulance at its station off Routes 5 and 10 for up to three years. The second ambulance, manned by a backup crew, would be housed in the Sunderland Public Safety Complex.

The South Deerfield station had been recommended by an EMS consultant, Bruce Baxter, as the preferred location for a regional service that would cover 69 square miles with a residential population of 10,184.

The Sunderland Public Safety Complex on River Road was the second recommendation.

In either location, a fully staffed ambulance could respond to a call within 15 minutes or less in 85 percent or more of dispatches, based on data developed by Baxter.

The interim location would give the towns time to find a permanent location.

The regional ambulance working group is eyeing the Western Massachusetts Regional Library building in the Whately Industrial Park as the permanent spot.

If the towns can reach an agreement with the state library system that owns the building, the selectmen hope to start the service — if townspeople approve — in January in Deerfield and move to the Whately facility by springtime.

The Massachusetts Library System put the 10,000-square-foot building up for lease almost two years ago, but it has yet to find any viable options. In June, the library board voted to explore the sale of the property as it continues to look for leasing options. The state library system would like to keep a presence at the building, where they are currently located in the front northern part.

Last week, the three town administrators, Sunderland Fire Chief Robert Ahearn and Deerfield EMS Director Matt Russo had a site visit at the library building with Greg Pronevitz, the Massachusetts Library System executive director.

“They are open to any proposal we want to make,” said Whately Town Administrator Lynn Sibley. “They’d like to keep a presence there whether we choose lease-to-own or own and lease back to them.”

The mortgage for the library building is $5,300 per month.

“It’s a nice place. There’s enough garage space for a number of ambulance vehicles. It’s very doable,” Ahearn said.

The building already has two bays that ambulances could use. It also has room for the senior center, another idea tossed around by the towns.

Some selectmen worried whether the library would wait for the towns to make an offer on the building, but Sunderland Town Administrator Margaret Nartowicz said “they know regardless of an agreement it will take some time.”

“What I got is they really like to do business with this kind of project,” Sibley said.

To show their interest, the selectmen agreed to send letters to the state library system.

The working group has anticipated asking townspeople to approve the proposal at special town meetings in September. The town meeting dates, however, will fall later in the fall as the working group needs to make a final decision on the staffing model. The towns are waiting to nail down the staffing plan for a proposed budget so they can write a specific money amount on town meeting warrants. The group’s next meeting is Sept. 3 at the Whately Center School.

This week, the working group also discussed the two proposed staffing options.

Most of the working group favored a staffing model presented by Sunderland Fire Chief Robert Ahearn that gradually builds the force over three years.

This plan, called “scenario one,” starts off with two full-time paramedics, two full-time EMTs and four per diem medics for a total of $708,545 in labor and benefits.

Scenario one gradually increases the service to a full-time force and would require the selectmen to ask the townspeople for another increase.

The other option, developed by Russo, starts the service off with a full-time professional force right from the start. It includes eight full-time employees for $832,761.

The cost difference between the two is Russo’s plan requires $124,216 more in benefits. Russo’s plan also doesn’t include expense items.

The working group did not make a final decision yet on the staffing model, asking the three town administrators to provide them with the different budget scenarios between Ahearn and Russo’s options and the current EMS budgets at the next meeting.

Those in support of scenario one included Ahearn, Whately Selectman Joyce Palmer Fortune and the Sunderland Board of Selectmen. They believed starting off gradually would allow them to make changes along the way.

Deerfield Selectmen’s Chairman Mark Gilmore and Whately Selectmen’s Chairman Paul Newlin supported scenario two, stating that for an extra $124,216 the towns could have the desired service from the start. Deerfield Police Chief John Paciorek Jr., who listened in on the meeting, said he also supported scenario two because it would eliminate the headaches involved with scheduling per diem staff.

Deerfield Selectman Carolyn Shores Ness and Whately Selectman Jonathan Edwards were not present.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
kmckiernan@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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