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Good report from South County EMS

South County EMS at the South Deerfield Fire Station are Calvin McKemmie, David Zamojski and Timothy Drumgool.  Recorder/Paul Franz

South County EMS at the South Deerfield Fire Station are Calvin McKemmie, David Zamojski and Timothy Drumgool. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

DEERFIELD — Southern Franklin County’s new regional ambulance service has been operational for one month and Chief Zachary Smith, the service’s director, says things are running smoothly so far.

Smith appeared before the town’s Board of Selectmen this week, where he reported on how the new emergency service has fared since it went live on July 1.

As of July 28, Smith said, South County EMS, which serves Deerfield, Sunderland and Whately, has responded to 78 medical calls and transported 54 people to the hospital. He said that works out to about 2.8 calls per day. The new agency, staffed full-time with a combination of full-time and volunteer EMTs and paramedics, replaces three town ambulance services staffed mainly with volunteers.

The service’s budget, which Smith said is roughly $1.02 million, was designed to accommodate 1,000 calls per year. He said the budget is funded through a combination of contributions from each of the three towns and fee-for-service billing of people who use the ambulance services.

Smith noted that 11 of those calls resulted from a mutual aid agreement with Greenfield, which he said rotates among other town ambulance services monthly. When they are removed from the tally to reflect months where they won’t be required to respond to such calls, the number drops to around 900 calls annually, Smith said.

“We’re right where we expected to be. Financially, we’re right in the neighborhood,” said Smith. “It’s still a little early to really tell, but it all looks pretty good and the estimates were right on.”

He highlighted that the service would not be required to respond to the Greenfield calls as often in the future.

Selectman Mark Gilmore agreed with Smith, noting that 28 days is “only a drop in the bucket.”

“The messages that I’m really taking away from this is that we’re seeing quicker response times and better care,” Gilmore said.

“It’s nice to know, financially, that our estimates are not far off,” said Carolyn Shores Ness, the board’s chairwoman.

Smith said the new service has seen response times to calls decrease from an average of 13 minutes for a basic-level emergency medical technician to about nine minutes. The service’s capacity to have paramedics available round-the-clock has brought the response time for calls where they are needed — which Smith said generally involve patients who are having cardiac or respiratory issues — down to roughly nine minutes from about 20 minutes.

“That’s lower than the national golden standard for emergency medical service, which is 12 minutes,” Smith said in a separate interview. “It’s reasonable to say that we’re getting there in half the time, and we are, in fact, providing higher level care in a short amount of time.”

In the past, Smith noted, paramedics had to be called in to Sunderland and Whately from Northampton or Greenfield, which took an additional 10 minutes to arrive on average.

Though Deerfield’s ambulance service did have a paramedic on staff before the regional service was formed, the town did not have agreements with the other two communities to cover their calls due to staffing limitations. During that period, Smith said, ambulance teams from those towns would respond to calls and if it was determined that the patient would require a paramedic team, the ambulance would begin transporting the person to a hospital and meet a paramedic team on the way.

Smith said paramedics are able to bring nearly all the services of a hospital emergency room to patients in the field, and getting that type of treatment started sooner generally makes it more effective.

According to Smith, the service’s main ambulance is stationed at the South Deerfield Fire Department, while its other two ambulances are housed in Whately and Sunderland. He said the service will be moving to a new, centralized location within the next three years.

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