HERMON, Maine — After analyzing proposals from three area emergency medical service providers — including the local volunteer crew that has served the town for 42 years — town councilors have decided to go in a different direction.
After a workshop Thursday night, councilors voted 6-1 to move toward a fire-based emergency medical services model that would bring ambulance services under the auspices of the town’s Fire Department.
The goal is to complete that transition by this summer or fall, Town Manager Clinton Deschene and Fire Chief Ray Pipes said Friday.
Pipes said that the fire-based model is common in Maine and nationally. Area communities that have adopted it include Bangor, Hampden, Orono, Old Town and Bucksport, to name a few.
Initial steps will involve developing a transition plan, a budget, a cost analysis and tax impact statement, they said.
The move may result in the addition of up to two additional full-time positions within the Fire Department and require the purchase or lease of an ambulance, they said.
Though it also will require some additional training, Pipes said the Fire Department has members with emergency medical training from basic to paramedic levels whom he described as being “underutilized.”
Deschene said it still wasn’t clear what revenues might look like under the new system.
Town officials announced in early January that they had decided to seek proposals for ambulance services, noting that years of negotiations had failed to yield a contractual agreement with the Hermon Volunteer Rescue and First Aid Squad.
At that time, Deschene said the existing squad’s level of service never has been a problem. The problem has been the absence of a contract, which he noted was both a risk and a source of concern for a Maine Municipal Association staff attorney the town had consulted.
Three organizations responded by the time the Jan. 31 deadline for bids rolled around. They were Hermon Volunteer Rescue, G&H Ambulance and Capital Ambulance.
After nearly two hours of discussion and review, however, councilors agreed that the fire-based service would best meet the town’s needs.
“The transition will result in Hermon Fire Department being the default responding agency in Hermon,” Deschene said in a news release issued Friday.
Deschene and Pipes said the decision does not preclude the town from working with the volunteer crew to reach the town’s goal, which ideally would result in around-the-clock paramedic-level coverage.
On Friday, Hermon Volunteer Rescue Chief Sherman Mason said the council’s decision left some of the group’s roughly 30 members feeling angry, betrayed and baffled.
“When we went into this, it was supposed to be [based on bids] and essentially, they disregarded the bids and went another way without letting anyone know why,” he said.
Another point of contention is that the volunteer crew is nearly finished an expansion of its headquarters on Billings Road, a project that was undertaken in good faith.
Mason said Friday he is worried the town is moving too quickly, which could have unfortunate consequences.
Deschene said that after decades of discussion with Hermon Volunteer Rescue and numerous proposals, the council “did not want to see this issue go unresolved again.” He added, however, “we’re going to start with them. As always, they are our agency of choice.”
Mason said Hermon Volunteer Rescue intends to continue serving for as long as residents need them.
“We’re going to keep on going. We’re going to put it up to the townspeople,” he said Friday.