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South towns work on EMT staffing

WHATELY — Next on the table for the selectmen in Whately, Deerfield and Sunderland in their talks about a proposed regional 24/7 paramedic ambulance service is how fast to professionalize the staffing.

So far, there are two conflicting ideas on how to staff the service.

Deerfield EMS Director Matt Russo recently developed a draft staffing plan that brings the proposed regional service up to full force right away, rather than the earlier plan to start slow.

Russo’s proposal calls for eight full-time EMTs — four paramedics and four basic level or intermediate EMTs. Both the primary and second ambulance would be staffed at the paramedic level.

There would be 24-hour staffing for the primary ambulance on site at the station. The second ambulance would be staffed with personnel with dedicated shifts. If the primary ambulance responds to a call, the on-call staff would respond immediately to the station to wait for a second call.

While Russo’s proposal essentially ramps up the service right away in its first year, another idea would be to gradually increase staffing over the first three years. The gradual increase was the original plan discussed among the towns when they began talks a year ago.

The original plan was to have four full-time staffers and remaining shifts would be filled by volunteers. There wouldn’t be dedicated on-call staff like Russo’s plan, but volunteer on-call EMTs during the slower time period at night and on weekends. The second ambulance wasn’t to be staffed at the paramedic level.

While Russo’s plan has on-call staff respond to the station once the first ambulance goes out, the gradual plan would have on-call volunteers stay at their homes until a second call actually does come in.

The difference between the two would be full-time staff would work around the clock during Russo’s proposal while volunteers would cover the night shift during the gradual staffing plan.

For both plans, full-time staff would work eight hour shifts. The shifts would be 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 3 to 11 p.m. These periods were found to be the busiest for calls for all three towns, particularly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Whately Town Administrator Lynn Sibley said.

The 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift would be filled by volunteers for the gradual plan and full-time on-call staff during Russo’s proposal.

The three boards of selectmen will discuss the staffing model at the regional EMS working group meeting on Monday at 7 p.m. in Sunderland Town Hall.

Staffing and station location are some of the remaining questions as the town leaders hash out the details of the proposed regional service. The selectmen are working to complete the plan by September, when they want to hold special town meetings to ask townspeople to fund the service.

Sunderland Town Administrator Margaret Nartowicz and Sunderland Fire Chief Robert Ahearn are working on staffing issues and will bring information to the meeting.

The Whately selectmen were originally slated to decide whether to join the regional service with Deerfield and Sunderland on Tuesday. But once they learned of Russo’s plan, they wanted to hold off.

“They felt the plan presented was not what we had talked about doing,” said Sibley. “They wanted a gradual increase. They want to talk to the other towns about going back to a gradual increase. They couldn’t make a decision until their questions are clarified.”

Some of the town EMTs have expressed concern over the regional plan and indicated their wish to stay as an autonomous town service.

The Whately selectmen, Sibley said, want to make sure existing volunteer EMTs have an opportunity to sign up for volunteer shifts, such as suggested under the original gradual plan.

“We don’t want to lose our EMTs. We want them involved,” said Sibley.

Russo’s plan was unexpected for many selectmen, who believed the towns would gradually progress to a full-time eight-member staff in three years. Russo’s plan would start the first year.

“I think the staffing proposed is fine if we’re a mature department, but right now we’re just starting,” said Sunderland Selectman Thomas Fydenkevez at Monday’s board meeting. “We have to see how it works. I don’t think we’re there yet. I felt uncomfortable.”

Deerfield selectmen’s Chairman Mark Gilmore, on the other hand, supports Russo’s plan.

“We have a desire to be at that level. I don’t think it can happen overnight, but I hope by the end of the fiscal year, we’re up to full staffing,” said Gilmore in a phone interview.

Deerfield selectmen did not discuss staffing at this week’s board meeting.

“I feel by having a full-time staff dedicated to the service we’d have a better service,” Russo said. “My plan gets us to where we need to be. We’re doing the best we can right now, but it needs to be better.”

Russo said he prefers his plan over the original plan because it ensures staff is dedicated to the service and not split between two jobs.

“My concern with part-time staffing is that part-time people will have commitments to other jobs. Where’s the loyalty? Will they honor their commitment to us?” Russo asked.

Selectmen in Whately and Sunderland have indicated that Russo’s proposal is the ultimate goal. The debate concerns how fast the three towns want to reach that goal.

If the towns choose a gradual progression, it would give them time to assess the service and make changes along the way.

“(Whately selectmen) eventually want to get to Russo’s plan, but not in the first year,” said Sibley. “(The selectmen) want to see how it is running first. Maybe we’ll find we don’t need to go all that far.”

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

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