Panel appointed to settle Hermon ambulance debate

A problem solving forum comprised of a panel of concerned citizens, town councilors and members of the Hermon Volunteer Rescue Squad took place Saturday at Hermon Middle School. The issue of ambulance coverage has deeply divided Hermon residents.
A problem solving forum comprised of a panel of concerned citizens, town councilors and members of the Hermon Volunteer Rescue Squad took place Saturday at Hermon Middle School. The issue of ambulance coverage has deeply divided Hermon residents.
Posted April 02, 2011, at 5:33 p.m.
Last modified April 03, 2011, at 5:03 p.m.

HERMON, Maine — The voters of Hermon may decide in a referendum vote how emergency medical services should be provided to their community.

At a special meeting on Saturday, an eight-member task force was established and charged with rolling forward what has become a thorny issue in the small town: Should the town continue its longstanding relationship with the private Hermon Volunteer Rescue and First Aid Squad or incorporate public ambulance and emergency rescue services into the municipal Fire Department?

The meeting at Hermon Middle School convened the Town Council and representatives of Hermon Rescue to review the options, identify common goals and establish a task force to move the decision-making process forward. The meeting, facilitated by independent mediators Walter Cupples and Deborah Phillips-Cupples of Hampden, also attracted about 35 members of the public.

At the end of the three-hour meeting, four people were named to the task force panel:

  1. William Scott, a member of the Hermon town council.
  2. Sherman Mason, chief of the Hermon Volunteer Rescue and First Aid Squad.
  3. Jen Mower, a member of the rescue squad.
  4. Vicky Gonyea of the Hermon Fire Department.

These individuals will identify four additional, unaffiliated members from the community and will work to develop a recommendation. Because the task force is not appointed by the council, its meetings will be held privately but reported biweekly to both the town council and the board of Hermon Rescue.

According to Town Manager Clinton Deschene, the task force could come forward with a specific recommendation for adopting one approach or the other. Or, more likely, the panel might frame a ballot question and let the voters decide.

“I just hope the community gets what it wants out of these services,” Deschene said Saturday afternoon after the meeting.

The Town Council voted in February to pursue the municipal model, after reviewing competitive bids from several emergency medical response groups. But many residents have since indicated strong support for Hermon Rescue, the existing volunteer group that has served the community for more than 40 years and which is completing an upgrade and expansion of its facilities in the town.

Hermon resident Ralph Carr, a voting member of Hermon Rescue, said the issue is one of control and accountability.

“It’s never been a question of the quality of the service,” he said. While he, like many Hermon residents, would prefer to see Hermon Rescue maintain its role in the community, the volunteer organization must become more forthcoming in terms of its finances, professional training and other matters.

Carr said he felt Saturday’s meeting went as well as could be expected, given the strong feelings on both sides.

“We’ll have an ambulance service one way or another,” he said.

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