The change comes as a result of the 2011 Town Meeting, where voters unanimously elected to replace Whitingham Ambulance Service, which would bill the town $14,000 per year, in favor of North Adams Ambulance, which would offer the service at no charge. The ambulance service change also begins July 1.
According to Mike Boisvert, first lieutenant with the Readsboro Fire Department, the new rescue and first-response unit will be a separate division under the fire department. “It will be one entity, but with two divisions, each with their own officers,” said Boisvert. He said that the three officers for the first-response unit are himself, Tom Decker, and Dan Jolatti. They will serve dual officer roles under both departments.
There are 18 volunteers on the team, which, according to Boisvert, “for a little town like Readsboro, is pretty huge. For our small town there’s been a lot of response to this.”
Boisvert said, “Not everybody was CPR certified, so we started off with that and defibrillator training.”
The group then began attending a first-responder course twice a week for about three hours every Monday and Wednesday evening. Out of the 18 volunteers, 15 are new and are taking the course for the first time. North Adams Ambulance Service is providing the instructors and the funding for the training. The training will provide pre-hospital skills such as handling head and back injuries, emergency births, lacerations, and bone breaks.
Boisvert said that the first responders will specifically cover Readsboro, but they will also be available for mutual aid calls for bordering towns.
According to Boisvert, North Adams Ambulance “will supply pretty much everything, from on-scene oxygen bottles to bandages and triage supplies.”
North Adams Ambulance currently takes about 3,000 calls per year, and they have four ambulances with a designated paramedic in a chase vehicle that can travel to different scenes as needed, according to Boisvert.
Whitingham Ambulance service takes about 200 calls per year, so their expenses are higher, Boisvert said. Although the bulk of the ambulance expense gets billed to insurance companies, a lesser call volume makes it difficult to break even. According to Lori Williams, Whitingham Ambulance’s only full-time paid employee, “Because we don’t do a high call volume, but we still have the same expenses, the money we can earn and put back into the equipment is smaller.”
Williams said that their calls were distributed approximately 40% for Readsboro, 40% for Whitingham, and 20% for Halifax. They currently have two ambulances, but they are thinking of retiring the second one as their call volume will go down, she said. “It’s a big hit for us, but it’s not going to change the way we operate.”
According to Boisvert, Readsboro has used Whitingham Ambulance typically for 55 to 70 calls per year. He expects that Readsboro’s first responders might get an average of 60 to 80 calls per year.
Boisvert reasoned that the response time for North Adams Ambulance Service will probably be roughly the same as it has been with Whitingham Ambulance Service. Although the travel time will be longer from North Adams, their ambulance service is always on duty, which differs from Whitingham, which relies on an on-call volunteer force.
Boisvert explained that the Whitingham emergency responders could be at work, or at home in bed, so there would be a certain amount of time before they could respond and be at the scene. North Adams responders, however, are always on duty.
The two ambulance services were both present at the town’s Fourth of July celebration last weekend. Boisvert said that Whitingham Ambulance Service has always covered the event in the past. “Just like at the fair, there’s an ambulance for heat exhaustion and minor booboos, whatever.” In addition to any services needed, Whitingham Ambulance’s presence would be to “kind of say ‘goodbye,’” said Boisvert. He explained that a lot of Readsboro residents have formed close bonds with the Whitingham Ambulance’s first responders.
“We also asked North Adams Ambulance to come and meet the people,” said Boisvert, “In case we do need to transport, they’ll also have an ambulance on scene.”
Boisvert said that the towns of Readsboro and Whitingham will still work together with mutual aid. “It’s just a business decision on the town’s part.”