ROCKPORT — On March 11, fire chiefs from Rockport, Camden and Rockland presented the Rockport Select Board with a concept which may offer the municipality an improved emergency response system in the future. The plan would aim to create a regional ambulance service using the City of Rockland as the primary provider, and would cross-train its staff to be versed in fire rescue, as well as medical response techniques.
If the proposal comes to fruition, the four towns of Camden, Hope, Lincolnville and Rockport would discontinue its annual contract with the privately-owned North East Mobile Health Services (NEMHS), which is based in Scarborough and has a regional presence, with a local base on Route 1 in Rockport.
The Camden Select Board heard about the plan at its early March meeting, as the fire chiefs begin introducing the proposal to the towns.
Rockport is currently in year one of a three-year contract with NEMHS. Fire Chiefs Jason Peasley, of Rockport, Chris Farley, of Camden, and Rockland’s Chris Whytock each shared with the Rockport Select Board possible advantages the plan would offer.
Peasley said that regional emergency response services and personnel have been in such demand recently that the week prior the Rockport Fire Department responded to a fire in St. George – 19 miles away and a 30 minute drive.
He said that possible increases in cost by switching from NEMHS would be outweighed by more cohesive, rapid responses.
“Until you use the service, it’s hard for you to judge but I can tell you, it may not be a big deal [in Rockport] but for Lincolnville and Hope this is more of a concern. If you talk to the citizens out there, there are times when they are still waiting 20 or 25 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.... I live in Lincolnville and I’m not waiting that long for an ambulance to come if one is available,” said Peasley.
He said that at this point he and his colleagues are looking at possible frameworks to facilitate the proposed service.
“We started looking at what we could do as the City of Rockland to make sure we could provide a service for the four towns yet still maintain what we have in the city. We’re fortunate that [Rockland] has a staff station with 18 full time personnel and another 10 or 12 in the call division....Being a municipally funded agency we’re paid out of taxes and that is offset by revenue from EMS,” said Whytock, adding that the group is still in contact with Camden officials to see if they would like to pursue the venture.
Whytock said that to serve the aforementioned towns it would be necessary to hire 10 additional full time employees, at an estimated cost of $800,000. However the revenue from emergency services provided would be placed directly into the EMS program rather than the town coffer, and would supplement equipment upkeep and purchase and overtime. Camden, Hope, Lincolnville and Rockport would receive a bill for the cost after revenue was collected. Two additional ambulances would be purchased, to be maintained in Rockland.
Whytock said an additional ambulance could be purchased every three years, and that Rockland’s ambulances are typically replaced every nine to 10 years.
Board Chairman Ken McKinley said that he was concerned about the municipal costs and personnel needed for the plan, pointing out that the town’s contract with NEHMS was not expected to increase next year.
Selectman Doug Cole said that the a new, municipally-operated service would give the town more control and that response by technicians who received both medical and fire rescue training would be a strong asset.
Town Manager Rick Bates said the concept would also appeal to individuals who serve as on call members of the Rockport Fire Department who could become certified as EMTs and find additional job opportunities.
“I think in particular of Lincolnville and Hope because they really struggle with the cost when the North East cost went up, so I don’t want to forget them because they’re part of our group also,” said McKinley.
He and the board agreed that they would like to pursue further discussions of the proposed service.
“I’d like to think that in our next round of talks we will have numbers, we’ll have the model laid out so we can get this out to the public and really put a dollar factor to a lot of people’s concerns. Nothing against whichever ambulance service is covering who, but I can say that [Rockland] is second to none and we take pride in that and will continue that,” said Whytock.
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