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Southern Franklin County towns seek regional ambulance service

Talks between the South Deerfield Fire District Prudential Committee — a three-member governing board — and town leaders began this month.

It is just one more step forward as the Select Boards and ambulance directors in Deerfield, Sunderland and Whately work to create a regional paramedic ambulance service covering 66.86 square miles around the clock.

So far, the negotiations between the two sides are going smoothly, Deerfield Select Board Chairman Mark Gilmore indicated.

The fire district has housed the Deerfield ambulance for free for years.

The fire district is separate from the town’s municipal government, which controls the ambulance department. The district allows the town to store its now on-call, volunteer-staffed, intermediate-level ambulance at the station.

“The big issue was for us to clear the air, have a conversation and express what both sides’ thoughts are,” Gilmore said.

The June meeting was the first the towns held with the fire district to hammer out issues. The selectmen and ambulance directors will continue to meet throughout the summer with special town meetings on the proposal anticipated for September.

At that time, they will have to ask townspeople to invest $495,992 for the service’s first year with $386,138 in anticipated revenue.

Deerfield’s expected first-year cost would be $256,732, with Sunderland’s share $156,122 and Whately’s $83,138. The budget numbers are estimated and subject to change.

The major worry on the fire district’s side was whether the proposed South County EMS would take up more space than the Deerfield EMTs currently use. Gilmore said the regional service would not take up any additional space at the station. There will be no bunk beds and no more than one ambulance, Gilmore said.

Though the Deerfield ambulance is the best option at this point, Gilmore said, the three towns need to discuss how to make the exchange equitable or to give Deerfield some compensation.

“We can’t expect Deerfield to just give its ambulance to the other towns,” Gilmore said.

If the South Deerfield station does not work out, the next option would be the Sunderland public safety complex on River Road.

At both spots, a fully staffed ambulance could respond to a call within 15 minutes or less in 85 percent or more of dispatches, based on data developed by the three town administrators and an EMS consultant, Bruce Baxter.

A lingering question is whether the southern Franklin County towns would compensate the fire district for use of its station.

Historically, the fire district has allowed Deerfield to house its ambulance at the station for free in a spirit of cooperation, Gilmore said. There is no contract, but merely a mutual understanding.

But that may change since the South Deerfield Fire District would have to support two additional towns.

Right now, the fire district supports two-thirds of the Deerfield population. Old Deerfield Fire District serves the other one-third.

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