Study finds 24/7 ambulance service in Hatfield a costly endeavor

  • Hatfield Town Hall

Staff Writer
Published: 10/1/2023 7:38:17 PM
Modified: 10/1/2023 7:37:20 PM

HATFIELD — Around-the-clock ambulance service for town residents will likely come at a significant cost to taxpayers, whether it is through an expansion of the current Emergency Medical Services model run from the town fire station or a contract that would be negotiated with Northampton’s Fire Department, according to a consultant’s report.

“We believe there is an opportunity to enhance the service level and enhance the response,” David Houghton, a retired fire chief in Wayland, said during a Wednesday presentation of the Municipal Resources Inc. report to the Select Board. “What really has to happen is you have to figure out how you want to enhance it, and how you’re going to pay for it.”

The report offers three viable options, including keeping the existing 16-hour schedules for firefighter/EMTs, meaning no overnight coverage; expanding to a 24 hours a day, seven days a week town department; or negotiating a contract with Northampton. Contracting with South County EMS, which serves Deerfield, Whately and Sunderland is another option looked into, though that has been deemed not to be viable.

Municipal Resources Inc. was contracted by the Select Board to complete the assessment following what Select Board Chairwoman Diana Szynal said was a growing number of responses to medical calls by Northampton’s ambulances. Szynal said that stress on Northampton prompted former Mayor David Narkewicz to address the topic with Hatfield officials several years ago.

Mutual aid calls and so-called Advanced Life Support intercepts continue to make up a sizable number of calls. From January to August 2022, 53 of 346 EMS calls in Hatfield, or 15%, required mutual aid, while 49 of 397, or 12%, required mutual aid during the same time frame this year. ALS intercepts were done on 20 calls during that period last year and 23 calls this year, or about 6% of all calls both years.

Szynal said she hopes that townspeople will be able to make informed decisions based on the contents of the report, possibly by next annual Town Meeting,

Municipal Resources Inc., too, is recommending a community forum and gathering input from residents. “You folks have to make the final decision,” Houghton said.

Current model versus 24/7 service

The report states that Hatfield is served well by the current model of hiring firefighter/EMTs, though this can cause issues if firefighters are tied up on a fire call.

“So essentially you’re rolling the dice on whether you will have people to go or not,” Houghton said.

Hatfield Fire Department currently has 26 full-time and call, or per diem, staff, with seven paramedics, one Advanced Life Support and 18 basic EMTs.

The town’s tax base supports the department with $84,515 in spending, after $100,000 in ambulance receipts and revenues are deducted. But there is no overnight coverage, there is a reliance on mutual aid and an ALS intercept fee is paid for each of those runs.

The current tax impact for a property valued at $250,000 is $35 a year. This impact on property tax bills for a $250,000 home would rise to $212.50 annually for around-the-clock municipal service, and $155 for a contract with Northampton, according to the report.

Under a 24/7 model, backed up by call staff, there would be nine employees, including Chief Robert Flaherty. The disadvantages to doing this is the current facility needs more space, and there is limited call volume for paramedics to keep skills sharp, meaning they will need to work per diem elsewhere. “They don’t have enough call volume here to keep their skills up,” Houghton said.

This would have a cost of $524,580, including buying an additional trailer for living accommodations to supplement the existing space.

Houghton said this could be staffed if Hatfield does recruiting and offers competitive wages. “There is a pool of people that are out there. You might not necessarily get paramedics, but you’ll at least get EMTs,” Houghton said.

Northampton option

Under a contract with Northampton, likely to start around $200,000, Hatfield would have to transfer its current ambulance and EMS equipment to the city. The report states the estimate for year one is $382,261, due to the implementation costs.

“Northampton, they run a quality service, there’s no doubt about the quality, knowledge and skills of the people in Northampton,” Houghton said.

Hatfield would still have to invest $75,000 into its operations to make sure local EMS response is provided before a Northampton ambulance arrives in town.

But there would be no town oversight, no revenue for the town and Houghton cautioned that Northampton ended an agreement with Westhampton nine years ago. Were that to happen again, Hatfield could be left in a similar situation to when the Gold Cross Ambulance Service based in Northampton ended service more than 40 years ago.

“You guys were in the same boat in 1982,” Houghton said.

That is why he strongly suggests a five-year contract that gets renewed in year three, giving Hatfield two years to find a new provider if Northampton backs out. “You cannot be without an ambulance service, the residents are very used to having 911 and people showing up and helping them,” Houghton said.

Though they looked at four options, the contract with South County EMS appears to be a non starter.

“Because it will cost more for them to run the system.” Houghton said, likely add $95,000 to what Deerfield, Whately and Sunderland are spending, with no benefits to those communities.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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