WARREN, Maine — The town’s ambulance director has been cleared of any wrongdoing after a Dec. 11 nighttime emergency call that was not responded to by the town’s volunteers but handled by a neighboring town.
Town Manager Elaine Clark had put director Polly Wood on administrative leave after that lack of response, a case in which a 2-month-old baby died for reasons not yet known.
Doug Pope, chairman of the Warren Board of Selectmen, read a statement before the start of a Monday night meeting in which it was announced that the internal investigation by the town found that the call was handled as is called for by Warren’s policy.
When Warren volunteers do not respond to a call, Knox County sends out a tone to the town’s mutual aid partner, Waldoboro. The town has operated under this written agreement since at least 1992, Pope said.
But the incident has led the town to look at its services and on Monday night, the board voted unanimously to have Waldoboro respond to all calls from 6 p.m. through 6 a.m. Mondays through Thursdays. This arrangement will last through Jan. 31 to allow the town time to do a thorough review.
“This was a very unfortunate, a very tragic event. It is causing us to look at how things work,” Pope said.
The town has five active volunteers and four of them have full-time jobs. On the night of Dec. 11 all had reasons they could not respond, Pope said.
The initial tone for the Dec. 11 call about a baby that was not breathing was sent out at 2:32 a.m. from the Knox County Regional Communications Center to Warren’s ambulance department. When no response was received, a second tone was sent out at 2:35 a.m. When the communications center failed to get a response a second time, the dispatcher contacted the Lincoln County Dispatch Center and it toned out for an ambulance from neighboring Waldoboro at 2:39 a.m. The Waldoboro ambulance was en route at 2:43 a.m. and arrived at the scene in Warren at 2:51 a.m.
The baby was dead when the crew arrived.
Bill Lufkin, who has served on the Warren Ambulance Service for 13 years, said there was no need for the Monday night meeting. He said that the town has an arrangement with Waldoboro in which its ambulance service will provide backup coverage for nights and weekends that has worked well for many years.
Lufkin said the system works well and that Waldoboro responded on Dec. 11 as is called for in the agreement between the two towns.
Warren created weekday per diem worker positions about three years ago. They are on duty from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m.
Lufkin noted that the number of calls to the Warren service has been increasing. He said that if the town decides to use Waldoboro for all night and weekend calls it will result in significant cost increases.
Waldoboro has four people on duty day, night and weekends and during the summer five to six people at a time, said Waldoboro Emergency Medical Services Director Richard Lash. Lash said the Waldoboro service was ready to help.
“Warren is our neighbor. We want to partner with you. We don’t want to take over, we just want to help,” Lash said.
He said there would be no cost to the town through Jan. 31. Lash said that Waldoboro would bill insurance companies or patients if they are taken to the hospital.
Selectman Ed LaFlamme said he always had assumed that Warren people would go out if a call from Warren came in.
Pope said the proposed agreement is a “do-no-harm agreement that gives us a little bit of elbow room.”
Selectman Michael York said his concern was that by going with Waldoboro for the next six weeks, it could damage the relationship with the ambulance volunteers. The selectmen originally considered turning to Waldoboro on weekends as well but modified that proposal to only weeknights, when volunteers are less likely to be able to respond.
Wood was cleared to return as ambulance director but remains out on medical leave, Pope said.