Whately and Sunderland selectmen discuss EMS
CORRECTION:The proposed Deerfield-only ambulance service would be a 24/7 paramedic ambulance service with seven employees. For 16 hours a day, an intermediate or basic EMT would be scheduled.
DEERFIELD — After two years of collaborating with Whately and Sunderland to develop a regional paramedic ambulance service, the Deerfield Board of Selectmen surprised its neighbors last week with a proposal to go it alone.
For months, the three southern Franklin County towns have been meeting to craft a proposal for a 24/7 regional paramedic service — the first municipal service of its kind in the region, one designed to improve response time and patient care.
The EMS working group — composed of the three boards of selectmen and EMS and fire directors — recently finished its final proposal. The working group decided to ask residents to pay $749,595 for an ambulance service based out of the South Deerfield fire station with a backup in the Sunderland Public Safety Complex.
But on Friday, the Deerfield Board of Selectmen, during a meeting with town employees, expressed interest in its own expanded town service. The proposed service would provide coverage 16 hours a day, seven days week.
Though there was no formal vote taken, the board debated giving Deerfield residents two options to consider at a special town meeting — the regional service or an expanded Deerfield-only service. The town meeting date is to be determined.
For Deerfield, the regional service would cost $387,990 and the local service would cost $352,931 — based on a proposed budget by Deerfield EMS Director Matt Russo.
Deerfield Board of Selectmen Chairman Mark Gilmore emphasized the town isn’t quitting the proposed regional service. Rather, the town is giving its residents options.
“I’m open to either one,” said Gilmore. “I think both options need to be explored and discussed.”
Gilmore said he wanted to make sure the town had an improved service regardless of how residents in Whately and Sunderland voted and he wanted to avoid waiting through another budget season.
Gilmore said he hoped Deerfield’s decision wouldn’t impact its relationship with its neighbors.
“I hoped it would not,” Gilmore said. “I’ve always treated this as an option.”
But some selectmen in Whately and Sunderland expressed surprise at Deerfield’s proposal.
“I didn’t expect this. I thought we were going in the same direction,” Sunderland Board of Selectmen Chairman Scott Bergeron on Friday.
In light of Deerfield’s decision, the Sunderland board at its meeting on Monday postponed its special town meeting for the regional EMS proposal. The original meeting was scheduled for Sept. 27. The warrant was open, but not posted. The rescheduled date is to be determined.
The Sunderland board plans to continue to move forward with the original plan.
The board reaffirmed its wish to hold a public informational meeting on the regional proposal and work with the other two towns.
“We’re a team,” said Selectman Thomas Fydenkevez. “We should get back with the three boards to discuss what Deerfield is doing. It is important we talk with one another.”
“The plan that was put on the table for the three communities by far offers the best for our residents. Our plan is a solid plan. It’s a plan we should support.”
Selectman David Pierce said the towns are getting into political issues.
“We need to keep our eye on the prize,” Pierce said. “We need to focus on what our real charge was.”
However, Fydenkevez said Sunderland Fire Chief Robert Ahearn is looking at other options for the town.
“We have to have a plan B,” said Fydenkevez. “The residents of the town may choose not to support (the regional plan) but we have to bring them a plan.”
Whately board member Jonathan Edwards said, “If they think they can get as good a service working on their own rather than a regional system, I understand why they’d think about that route. But I’m hard pressed to believe one town can afford the same level of service as the three towns.”
Edwards hopes the three towns continue to work together. He believed the towns work well when they cooperate, such as with the South County Senior Center that was reformed in 2010.
“All three towns are better off when we collaborate on service delivery,” Edwards said.
However, Edwards said he understood Deerfield’s decision.
“It is to be expected,” Edwards said. “They want to give their people all the information available. It makes sense that voters have the opportunity to weigh their options.”
If Deerfield voters do decide against a regional service, whether Whately and Sunderland can afford to do it without its biggest partner has to be determined.
Sunderland Town Administrator Margaret Nartowicz said “Whately and Sunderland would have to analyze their ability to do it together.” She said the two towns have not considered a two-town scenario without Deerfield.