Fire chief seeks $30K to address EMS staffing woes in Southampton

  • A Southampton Fire Department ambulance. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/9/2021 4:18:43 PM
Modified: 12/9/2021 4:18:16 PM

SOUTHAMPTON — If approved, an article on the special Town Meeting warrant could address some of the staffing challenges the town’s Emergency Medical Services is facing — at least temporarily.

While scheduling has been challenging at times, staffing was pretty set in place when the budget was set for the current fiscal year, said Fire Chief John Workman. Since then, the Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services have lost several members on the roster that are vital to shift coverage, he said.

“I lost people that cover some of the major shifts,” he said. “That happens. Life happens. As I went to look to hire people, we did all our usual stuff, we printed signs and whatnot, but I couldn’t get anyone. No one was interested.”

After a little research, Workman learned that the Southampton Fire Department’s hourly wages are lower to all other EMS departments in the area. The hourly wage for a paramedic in Southampton is $20.29. According to Workman, the hourly wage for a paramedic in Easthampton is $28.15; Granby is $25.98; Westfield is $26.10; Southwick is $27.35; and American Medical Response (AMR) is $23.90.

To aid in recruitment efforts, Workman is proposing raising the hourly wages for Southampton paramedics and EMTs — increasing paramedic pay by $3 and $1 for a basic-level EMT. He has requested a transfer of $30,000 from the ambulance receipts to the EMS wage account through an article on the special Town Meeting warrant. The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. at William E. Norris Elementary School, located at 34 Pomeroy Meadow Road.

If approved, the $30,000 transfer from ambulance receipts will cover the approximately 200 days left in the fiscal year, but isn’t a long-term solution, Workman said. In the near future, he intends to propose adding another full-time position to the Fire Department. Currently, there are 50 per diem members at the Fire Department and Workman is the only full-time employee.

“This is just a temporary fix,” he said. “I can’t lose any more staff. What I’m trying to do is make a relatively competitive wage. I’m still staying at the low end to the towns surrounding us, but trying to make it a more attractive place for EMTs to work a second job and get some of this coverage.”

Although a lack of staffing is an issue all over the country, for Southampton, the issue has presented a bigger problem: missing calls.

From July 1 to Nov. 16, the department received 208 calls, 47 of which included mutual aid assistance. Out of those calls, 26 times other agencies provided transports, which represents a potential loss of $63,882 in revenue, Workman said. There was no staff available at all to respond on four different occasions.

Sixteen times, there was only one member of the Southampton Fire Department available. Under state law, Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulance services must be staffed with a minimum of two emergency medical technicians (EMTs), at least one of whom is a certified paramedic.

On 21 occasions, the Southampton Fire Department received a call for transport, but there was no paramedic available and as a result, Workman said the department lost an estimated $5,700 and $7,800 in intercept call fees.

“We’re not serving the community the way I believe we need to,” said Workman, who noted he would like the department to be able to respond to 100% of the calls.

The warrant includes 16 other articles, including a transfer of funds for the purchase of an additional voting machine needed for a second precinct; a transfer of funds to help the library maintain its accreditation status and expand its hours; and a request to appropriate funding for the purchase of a new dump truck. There are also three articles requesting the transfer of Community Preservation Act funds for identifying and recording New Haven-Northampton Canal project; the acquisition of Greenway right of way and design; and funding for a Conant Park walking path and splash pad as well as the acceptance of a Park and Recreational Facility Construction Act (PARC) grant.

The town’s Board of Health voted to postpone the special Town Meeting to February or March because of the increase of COVID-19 infections and the Select Board on Tuesday discussed whether it made sense to delay the meeting. Ultimately, the Select Board voted not to postpone the meeting in a 3-2 vote.

Select Board member Joy Piper questioned whether the concern for postponing the meeting was that it would not be well-attended and not meet the quorum of 50 people or that holding the meeting could create a potential super-spreader event.

“It just seems like too much mixed messaging from the leaders in the town if we’re going to postpone the Town Meeting, but all the kids and all the teachers should be in school, and the private entities don’t have to have a mask mandate,” Piper said.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.

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