Towns to vote on EMT service

DEERFIELD — In the fall, townspeople in Deerfield, Whately and Sunderland will likely be asked to pay between $27,000 and $66,000 more for expanded ambulance service. Town leaders say the extra service will be worth the extra money.

The proposed service would be a paramedic level service 24 hours per day, seven days per week based out of the South Deerfield Fire District. It would be called the South County Emergency Medical Services and cover Sunderland, Deerfield and Whately if the townspeople approve the proposal.

The proposed deadline for the towns to vote first-year appropriations can be no later than Sept. 30. And the proposed start date is Jan. 1, 2014.

The proposed first-year cost is $495,992, with $386,138 in anticipated revenue.

Deerfield’s expected first-year cost would be $256,732. Sunderland’s share would be $156,122 and Whately’s would be $83,138. The budget numbers can still change, however.

The budgets of the existing volunteer services and the proposed paramedic-level staffed service are difficult to compare, town leaders say.

The big difference results from how the systems are set up. In the existing system, volunteers respond to calls when they can. Under the regional plan, there will always be two EMTs on hand — the necessary number needed to transport a patient. And there will be one ambulance and one ready reserve ambulance rather than the individual town ambulances.

The hope is that response times will decrease.

Based on 2012 figures, it takes Deerfield an average of 17 minutes and Whately and Sunderland an average 18 minutes to respond to 90 percent or more of calls.

The goal for the regional service is to have 90 percent of calls, regardless of the location, be under 16 minutes.

Planners envision implementing the regional EMS in January, half way through the fiscal year, so increased expenses would be less the first year, according to Sunderland Town Administrator Margaret Nartowicz. Money towns set aside for ambulance coverage would be shifted to the new regional entity mid fiscal year. In the future, the insurance payments and local ambulance appropriation would go to the regional EMS.

This year in Sunderland, the total Fire and EMS department budget amounted to $186,525. Under the regional draft budget, Sunderland taxpayers’ costs would increase by $54,186.

Deerfield taxpayers currently pay $190,000 a year for the on-call ambulance service. Taxpayers’ contribution could increase by about $66,732.

Whately taxpayers for next year agreed to pay $56,143 for the EMS budget. The taxpayers would be asked to pay another $26,995 for a regional service.

The proposed staff number is six full-time positions plus per diem paramedics and EMTs scheduled for regular shifts.

Currently, Sunderland has one full-time firefighter/EMT who works 40 hours a week. Any call requires one of the 14 on-call EMT staff to respond with him. On-call staff get paid $16.37 per hour when they respond.

In Deerfield, there are three full-time staff members and 25 on-call staff who get paid $17.92 an hour when they respond.

In Whately, there are 16 volunteer staffers.

The way Whately is handling the improvement of EMS services is slightly different.

To improve the town service, the townspeople added $32,165 to the budget, which would pay for on-call shifts and higher stipends. The budget in past years was $23,978.

Whately EMT began improving the town service in April to give the selectmen a choice between the regional and town service.

Whately EMTs now get paid $25 for a 12-hour shift. If the on-shift EMT gets a call and transports a patient, the stipend increases to $75. If a call comes in during an off shift time, then the transporting EMT gets a $100 stipend. The shifts run from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

If the towns choose to move forward, Nartowicz said the towns would apply for an annual state Community Innovation Challenge Grant that supports projects for regional service enhancements. Towns can apply for up to $200,000 in funding.

Nartowicz said the grant could help offset some of the first year implementation and capital costs.

This week, the Sunderland and Deerfield selectmen both took the first step by agreeing to move forward with the EMS Plan and legal review.

Sunderland designated Selectman Tom Fydenkevez as its representative to the planning group. Deerfield’s representative is Selectman Chairman Mark Gilmore.

The Whately selectmen will be asked to do the same at their meeting early next week.

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