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Firefighters propose municipal ambulance service

Date: 7/25/2014

HOLYOKE – Christopher Butler, president of the Holyoke Firefighters Association, Local 1693, told members of the City Council that Holyoke could benefit by operating its own ambulances.
Members of the Safety Committee received a proposal from Butler and then asked questions. No vote was taken on the matter as Chair Linda Vacon said this would be a matter for the entire council to consider.
Councilor Joseph McGiverin said the issue had been considered in the past and financial concerns had been expressed.
Butler said that under the present system, a medical emergency call goes to a Holyoke police dispatcher and then to AMR in Springfield. If there is a reason to alert the Holyoke Fire Department (HFD) a call then goes there.
He believes greater efficiency and eventually costs savings could be realized by instating a municipal ambulance service through a three-phase plan. In the first phase, the HFD would obtain and operate the emergency medical dispatch within the HFD. The next phase would be to have a back-up ambulance with basic life support that would work with the contracted private ambulance service. The third step would be to operate the primary basic life support transporting ambulance service.
Butler’s plan noted the HFD has currently 65 staff members certified as emergency medical technician (EMT) basic, three EMT intermediates and four EMT paramedics on staff. The department responds to more than 4,000 emergency medical calls annually and receives no revenue for the service.
For the second phase the city would need to purchase or lease two fully equipped ambulances, either new, used or refurbished, which would cost between $130,000 and $300,000.
“There are 1,000 good reasons to do it,” McGiverin said. “The drawback is the reimbursement.”
Butler said the mandatory insurance polices in the Commonwealth have made the issue of payment for the ambulance service easier to overcome.
He added he believes a municipal ambulance service would be self-sustaining.
Councilor Anthony Soto asked Butler how many of his local would be in favor of this addition to the HFD. Butler responded that votes on the issue have been taken “multiple times” and that approval was more than 90 percent.
An ambulance service would have to be negotiated as part of the contract with the union, Vacon explained and added, “Nothing we’re doing would prohibit the mayor from working on this.”
Butler said he had heard there is a possibility of Mayor Alex Morse forming a committee to look into the matter.