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Fire Dept. gets OK to upgrade Pepperell ambulance service


PEPPERELL — After an initial hesitation of several weeks, selectmen have unanimously approved a Fire Department request to pursue a license waiver that would move ambulance capability to the paramedic level.

The vote was taken Monday night after receipt of a 6-1-1 vote of the Finance Committee, which stated that it is a move the town should not only make, but should embrace.

It is the second time in a decade that the enhanced EMT capability has been sought. This time, the town not only has a paramedic in charge of the ambulance company — Capt. Jean Taubert — but three licensed paramedic graduates and two more taking classes at their own expense. In addition, call volume and population is much higher than it was eight years ago.

The next step is gaining approval of the physician in charge at Nashoba Valley Medical Center, followed by the so-called P/B waiver of state law that requires there be two paramedics on an ambulance at all times. The waiver allows use of one paramedic and one EMT with a basic or intermediate level license, thus spreading capability to both ambulances.

The licensing difference is a paramedic’s authority to work with a patient under a doctor’s radioed orders while the patient is in transport, to administer drugs and operate a defibrillator with higher responsibility among other things.

The Fire Department plans fundraisers to purchase a rebuilt defibrillator and monitor. Taubert has said the necessary drug box is not a large expense. Both items can be transferred between vehicles.

It had been estimated that maximum cost to the town would be $5,000. With the recent resignation of the ambulance administrator, the cost is zero.

Selectmen were initially skeptical despite claims that the estimated $65,000 cost of paying for paramedic backup from Townsend, Rockingham or MedStar ambulances would be saved and that Pepperell’s increased capability could generate revenue from neighboring towns. Next year it will cost the ambulance company $350 each time outside paramedic backup is sought, whether or not the vehicle is turned away prematurely.

Selectmen had been concerned that the savings is not revenue and that costs could somehow multiply.

In a letter to the board, Finance Committee Chairman Christopher DeSimone stated advantages that include ending payment to out-of-town service, town collection of insurance payments, new personnel will be paid less than veteran paramedics, Pepperell services can be offered to other towns, and residents will get better service.

“There was concern about dilution of skill sets. Subsequently, I understand paramedics also work elsewhere and there is training at Southern New Hampshire Medical Center,” Chairman Joseph Sergi said. “All the folks I talked to about it want the service.”

“Just to have our own people right here in town will save money,” Deputy Chief Peter Shattuck said. “It’s a great move for the town and a huge step for the Fire Department. As I said before, give us the chance to fail.”

Selectman Patrick McNabb was assured that the license structure can be reversed if it doesn’t work out. He also wanted assurance there is no commitment to additional staff.

“If nothing else kicks in, maybe there will be in five to 10 years when the town is in better shape. Right now, absolutely not,” Shattuck said.

“I caution that people will be watching,” McNabb said.

“So will I,” Shattuck answered.

Selectman Joseph Hallisey reminded that “a month or so ago I said I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. It hasn’t. I’m solidly behind this.”

“The people want it,” Sergi said.