PEPPERELL — The Finance Committee, in a 6-1-1 vote, has recommended selectmen approve a Fire Department request to upgrade the town’s ambulance service to paramedic level, having been assured there would be no additional cost to taxpayers.
The Board of Fire Engineers met with the finance board last week.
Pepperell already has an advanced life support service but, with the exception of EMS Capt. Jean Taubert, its emergency medical technicians have intermediate-level licenses. Two more top-level licensed technicians will receive accreditation shortly, Tyler said.
Selectmen, leery of spending an estimated $4,800 on the conversion and cognizant that the $68,000 spent on out-of-town paramedic backup is not actual money going into the town treasury, made no decision last month. The board is awaiting Finance Committee recommendation.
Fire Chief Toby Tyler told the Finance Committee that even with a salary hike for paramedics the town would save $2,100 because EMT Administrator Joshua Robichaud left the department after the meeting with selectmen, thus saving his salary. Robichaud took a civilian job in Iraq with no return to the Fire Department in the deal.
Tyler told the FinCom that although outside paramedic-level ambulance backup from Rockingham, MedStar and Townsend cost $37,000 in fiscal 2009, the $68,000 cost estimate is based on 2010 rate increases. For example, Deputy Chief Jonathan Kinney said, Rockingham charges $350 per call regardless of whether or not it is terminated prior to arrival.
Pepperell EMTs, both licensed as basic or intermediate, are paid $1 per hour to be on call. That would increase to $2 per hour for paramedic-licensed EMTs, Tyler said. Paramedics would earn $14 per hour. The Park Street station is manned by EMTs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week and with on-call personnel at other times.
Taubert’s salary would increase 38 cents per hour because she at the top of the scale, bringing her salary from $22.50 to $22.98 per hour. Soon-to-be paramedic-licensed Al Deshler’s pay would increase $1.13 per hour.
Since state law demands a paramedic-level ALS ambulance be manned 24/7 with two paramedics, Pepperell would operate under a waiver that places one paramedic and one less-licensed EMT on each ambulance eight hours per day.
Tyler told the Finance Committee Pepperell would need to purchase a $15,000 heart monitor and a drug box for paramedics’ higher-level life support. Fundraisers will be held, he said, adding that once the new level is in place, grant money may be available to outfit the second ambulance. The equipment is portable and can be switched vehicle to vehicle.
“Hollis or Groton could call us for (for paramedic backup),” Deputy Fire Chief Peter Shattuck said.
Tyler said Pepperell has an over 90 percent collection rate on ambulance calls.
“Are you looking to go 24 hours?” asked FinCom member Alan Leao.
“There’ll be a need but just when is a question,” Tyler said. “Our response time averages four minutes during the day and six to eight at night.”
“This is what we talked about (earlier). Privatization. You guys may have the best bid,” said FinCom chairman Christopher DeSimone.
“No matter which way you split it, at a minimum we’d break even,” said FinCom member Melissa Tzanoudakis.
“Money is good but the important thing is better care for the patient,” Tyler said.
Answering FinCom member George Zacharakis, Tyler said the old argument that Pepperell doesn’t have enough paramedic-level calls to allow medics to maintain skills is no longer accurate. They routinely attend training at Southern New Hampshire Medical Center and St. Joseph Hospital, plus most work on out-of-town ambulances.
“It costs $6,000 to $8,000 for training. They pay for it. They’re making quite a commitment,” Tyler said.
“It would be good if we could leave the budget alone the first year to give us a chance to determine (if this works),” Shattuck said. “I know you don’t like us coming back with money transfer requests. It makes us appear as if we can’t control calls. We don’t have a crystal ball (to predict volume).”
“I just don’t want to come out of this saying we’ve saved $37,000,” FinCom member Michael Landino said.
“This is hitting us mid-budget. Can we talk in April, May or June because we’re already in a hole?” Zacharakis asked.
“This won’t cost anything now with the current pay freeze. We’re asking to have this in place at step six. No pay increase until the selectmen lift it,” Shattuck said.
Tyler warned the committee that the department might be short $20,000 on projected payroll. Last year there was a $26,000 shortage.
“The problem is, we’re at level funding each year and call volume can go up,” he said.