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Three Franklin County towns move forward on regional EMS service

The towns also agreed to appoint the three town administrators — Bernie Kubiak, Lynn Sibley and Margaret Nartowicz — and the three EMS directors — Matt Russo, Gary Stone and Robert Ahearn — to an oversight board that would develop the details of a regional EMS service.

The group is to produce a report by April for residents to vote on later at special town meetings.

The board will work out the details of a plan, called Option Four, recommended by the EMS directors and consultant Bruce Baxter of Haverhill in November.

It is the first time the three select boards have officially agreed to move forward with forming a shared EMS service.

“To me, it is very clear. I know where I want to go. Option Four is what we should be striving for,” said Sunderland Selectman Thomas Fydenkevez.

The southern Franklin County towns predict the service may become a model for other towns. Sunderland Selectman David Pierce said, “This will be the template for other things. This won’t just be about EMS. We’re faced with re-examining what a town means to us.”

The recommendation is to set up a regional ambulance service based out of the South Deerfield Fire District Station. The service would minimally staff a first call-first response Class 1 paramedic ambulance 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Simultaneous or second calls would be managed by on-call personnel in the reserve ambulance.

The primary response ambulance would be the current Deerfield ambulance. Either the Sunderland or Whately ambulance would be the reserve ambulance to be replaced by 2016.

Each community has one ambulance, but there is no ready reserve ambulance to manage multiple simultaneous medical calls within a town, according to Baxter. If an ambulance is out of service, the communities rely on mutual aid.

The recommendation addresses several issues. According to Baxter, it provides a consistent higher level of service and quicker response time. It reduces reliance on mutual aid ambulances by providing a 24/7 staffing model and optimizes revenue recovery. All current full-time and on-call staff would be eligible to participate in the new service.

The system would be governed by a regional oversight board. Though the consultant recommended a seven-member board, the towns decided to make it six, eliminating the position of EMS system medical director, which would have likely come from Baystate Franklin Medical Center. The board would be composed of each town’s EMS director or Select Board-appointed representative, each town’s administrator and a regional EMS chief to serve as an ex-officio nonvoting member.

The proposed service area encompasses 68.84 square miles. Collectively, there are 10,184 residents living in 4,421 households. During the work week, the population swells by an additional 5,000.

Seven funding options were presented, based on numbers the town administrators plugged into formulas provided by Baxter. The boards did not choose a funding option, leaving it up to the oversight board to determine which is most equitable.

In the first year, it would cost $517,974 to run the regional EMS service. In year two, it would cost $567,835. And in year three, it would cost $576,059.

Using first-year figures, one option for funding the system was based on the number of dwellings. With 2,105 homes, it would cost Deerfield $246,555. With 1,638 homes in Sunderland, it would cost $192,168. With 678 homes, it would cost Whately $79,250.

If the funding is based on population, Deerfield would once again pay the most in the first year. With 5,125 people, Deerfield would pay $257,433. With 3,684 people, Sunderland would pay $181,290. With 1,496 people, Whately would pay $75,106. The four remaining options are based on property tax base and population, the same numbers the state uses to calculate local aid. As the percentage of property value decreases and the percentage of population increases in the optional formulas, Deerfield pays less and Sunderland and Whately pay more.

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