Whately EMS Director Gary Stone expresses concerns about proposed regional paramedic ambulance service
WHATELY — With less than two weeks before Whately voters decide on a proposed 24/7 regional paramedic ambulance service, the town’s EMS director said he is not on board.
“I feel that I cannot help to sell something that I don’t support completely,” Gary Stone said. “I can’t bring myself to be totally on board with regionalizing.”
Stone sent an email last week to Town Administrator Lynn Sibley describing his concerns. Stone said his fellow 17 volunteer emergency medical technicians agree with him.
Stone’s declaration comes days before Whately voters will decide whether to support the regional proposal on Oct. 15. Stone said he would not actively oppose the regional proposal at Town Meeting, but if questioned he would not hesitate to voice his concerns.
Stone did say if all three towns approve the regional proposal, he would support it — a sentiment he has repeatedly expressed.
“If this passes the three towns, then I will support it 100 percent. I just hope we’re moving in the right direction,” Stone wrote in the Sept. 30 email.
For more than two years, the Whately, Sunderland and Deerfield Select Boards have worked to develop a shared paramedic service. Sunderland votes on the proposal on Oct. 18. Deerfield votes Oct. 28.
Stone attended an informational forum last week on the regional ambulance proposal, but he did not speak or stand alongside Sunderland Fire Chief Robert Ahearn and Deerfield EMS Director Matt Russo, who presented the proposal.
Chairman Paul Newlin said the Whately Select Board still supports the regional proposal despite Stone’s concerns.
“I think the regional is what will be best for the town,” Newlin said. “We’re dropping a lot of calls and having to rely on other services. We’re looking for a more efficient way of offering services.”
Newlin said he hopes Whately EMTs continue to volunteer in the regional service if it passes. The ready reserve ambulance in the regional service would be staffed by on-call volunteers.
Throughout the year, Stone has voiced his displeasure with the regional proposal.
In May, Stone started on-call volunteer shifts and higher stipends to better respond to medical calls and improve the local service. Stone said he and other Whately EMTs would like to build on the local service.
While the Select Board was delighted to see the improvements, Newlin said its members believe the regional service would be more sustainable over time.
Data from April and May showed that the Whately service reduced its response time by an average of two minutes, down to 10 minutes, and the number of missed calls dropped from 49 percent to 9 percent.
“I also want the best for my neighbors, but I also think that what we have is giving them a pretty good service,” Stone said. “Getting a paramedic has not been a problem for Whately in the past. Whately is the only town that I feel is losing if this passes to the extent that the other towns will still have a rig parked in their stations.”
Stone said he and the Whately EMTs are “not totally opposed to the (regional service). We just don’t think it is necessary at this time.”
Stone said fewer than half of calls in the three towns require a paramedic ambulance.
He believes the regional proposal is premature. “There are still questions that haven’t been totally addressed yet,” Stone said.
He believes there would be a need for a third ambulance for the three towns and he fears the paramedic truck would be called to assist surrounding towns and leave thinner service in southern Franklin County.
Stone said the towns should wait until the annual Town Meetings to vote on a more detailed plan.
“I don’t think it is fair to the towns to only have a small percentage of voters decide on the fate of something that has been a part of our towns for 30 or more years,” Stone said.
In September, the three Select Boards had to patch up their partnership when the Deerfield board discussed plans to give its residents an expanded local option to consider if the regional proposal fails in the other two towns.