Hermon rescue unit ‘absolutely not’ closing

Posted Jan. 14, 2011, at 10:58 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 7:17 a.m.

HERMON, Maine — Despite the Town Council’s Jan. 6 vote to seek proposals for ambulance services, members of the volunteer rescue unit that has been serving the town for 42 years say they aren’t going anywhere.

In a statement issued to the Bangor Daily News this week, Steve Watson, chairman of Hermon Rescue’s board of directors, said that the 28-member crew intends to continue providing emergency medical care to residents.

“This squad has been providing professional, dedicated emergency medical services to the town’s people for over 42 years. This service is ingrained into the fabric of this community,” Watson wrote in his statement, faxed to the BDN on Wednesday.

“Let us belay the fears of the citizens of this great town. We, the Hermon Volunteer Rescue & First Aid Squad Inc., have no intention of closing our doors, not under any circumstances,” he wrote. “Our new building is almost completed, which was enlarged and remodeled, which will allow us to serve our residents in a more efficient and cost effective manner.

Town Manager Clinton Deschene said that was “good news” for the community. He said that the squad’s level of service has never been an issue. The problem has been the absence of a contract.

“This is a risk,” he said Thursday.

Watson issued his statement in response to a Jan. 7 news release in which town Fire Chief Ray Pipes announced that the Town Council had voted to seek proposals for ambulance services.

Town officials set a Jan. 31 deadline for the proposals, the town’s news release said.

The move to solicit proposals was prompted by a recommendation from a Maine Municipal Association staff attorney and by the level of compensation sought by the Hermon Volunteer Rescue Squad, Pipes said Thursday.

As a matter of policy, the town is required to seek bids for any purchase over $25,000, Pipes said. He said the town charter also requires that a special town meeting be held in order to approve unbudgeted expenditures exceeding $25,000.

Pipes said the group’s most recent offer, submitted last month, called for a three-year agreement at a cost of $40,000 for the first year of service, $50,000 for the second year and $60,000 for the year after that.

As it stands, the town has provided as much as $35,000 a year on a donation basis to help cover squad members’ stipends. The crew also offsets costs through customer billing, according to the BDN archives.

In the last two years, however, the town made no contribution toward the squad’s annual operating costs, which now stand at $153,000, Watson said.

Watson said that councilors had the option of initially entering a half-year agreement, which would have kept the cost below the $25,000 limit, but did not do so.

“We are a little baffled at this,” he wrote in a separate fax to the newspaper.

Watson said in an interview Thursday that he issued his statement after news coverage about the request for proposals caused some in the community to question whether the squad was shutting down. He said 40 to 45 residents stopped by or called.

“Absolutely not,” was Watson’s response.

Watson confirmed that the volunteer crew plans to submit a proposal by the end of the month. He also made the following statement:

“If for some reason the town’s administration decides to award this emergency provider service to an out-of-town private entity, municipality or even develop their own startup service, at significant cost, we are going nowhere.

“The choice of whom you want to provide this service in your time of need is yours. We will continue to provide this critical, time-sensitive emergency medical service and, if necessary, become their competition,” he concluded.

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