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Northfield picks up free ambulance

Seeks $15K to put it into service

Northfield has received a used ambulance, free-of-charge, from the town of Rochester. Town voters will decide at a special town meeting Monday whether to spend $15,000 to repair the vehicle. Submitted photo.

Northfield has received a used ambulance, free-of-charge, from the town of Rochester. Town voters will decide at a special town meeting Monday whether to spend $15,000 to repair the vehicle. Submitted photo.

NORTHFIELD — The town’s Emergency Medical Services Department is thankful for a free ambulance this Thanksgiving.

The town’s second ambulance could be ready to serve residents by February if they approve the use of $15,000 in EMS Department revenue for equipment and upgrades. The town will vote on the proposal at a special town meeting at 7 p.m. Dec. 9 in Pioneer Valley Regional School. The Selectboard has given the article its backing.

“The town of Rochester heard we were looking for a new ambulance, and volunteered to give it to us,” said EMS Chief Mark Fortier. “They had just gotten a grant for new equipment, including an ambulance, and the old one was just going to go out to bid as surplus.”

Though the ambulance is used and has about 69,000 miles, Fortier said it’s in solid shape and runs strong.

“We drove it all the way here from Rochester (near Cape Cod) and didn’t have a single problem,” Fortier said. “It has some body rust and some minor damage to fix, but it’s in relatively good shape.”

A mechanic will thoroughly inspect the vehicle before the EMS Department seeks state certification.

Fortier said the ambulance could be ready for inspection by the state Office of Emergency Medical Services in February and placed into service shortly thereafter.

The ambulance would be used as a secondary vehicle, enabling the department to respond to two calls at once. Fortier said that, in May alone, the department had to pass four calls on to other ambulance services because Northfield’s ambulance was tied up on a call. All four times, said Fortier, additional Northfield EMTs were available; they just lacked a second ambulance.

Fortier said the opportunity came about because of a connection between Northfield and Rochester. The Old Rochester Regional School District holds a seventh-grade survival program for a week each summer in the woods of Northfield.

Forthier thanked the town of Rochester, as well as Bernardston Police Chief James Palmeri, whom he called “instrumental” in the arrangement.

Farther down the road

Though the town’s “new” ambulance is about 20 years old, its key feature could be reused on a future truck.

Unlike the town’s current, one-piece van-style ambulance, the donated ambulance’s body can be removed from the frame, and placed onto a newer chassis. Ford currently advertises brand new F350 chassis starting at about $30,000.

For now, though, the department seeks half that amount to repair the donated ambulance and outfit it with a stretcher and some other necessities.

Fortier said he doesn’t believe it will take the entire $15,000 to get the ambulance ready for service. Whatever isn’t used will return to the department’s enterprise fund.

Unlike the police and fire departments, the EMS Department is self-sustaining. The town charges for EMS services, and receipts go into the department’s account, which is used to fund EMS operations.

Currently, said Fortier, there is about $47,000 in excess revenue in the enterprise fund. The chief said the second ambulance will help lower response times during simultaneous calls, while increasing department revenue to be used for future improvements.

The new ambulance could also be outfitted for paramedic-level service, which Fortier has advocated for.

The department now provides “advanced intermediate” life support service, but that level of service will soon disappear, because the state is adopting national standards. The change would require Northfield EMS to advance to the “national advanced EMT” or paramedic levels, or take a step back to basic life support service.

Many of the department’s EMTs are licensed paramedics, though they are unable to operate at that advanced level while working for Northfield because of the department’s licensure. This means paramedics from Baystate Health Ambulance or other agencies are often called for an “intercept,” responding to aid Northfield by administering medications or other procedures.

Fortier has asked the Selectboard to consider a move to paramedic-level service, and is currently working on a business plan to help make his case.

You can reach David Rainville at: drainville@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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