ELLSWORTH, Maine — Fire crews here are responding to more emergency medical calls in the city than before, though that’s not necessarily something the Ellsworth Fire Department set out to do when it was licensed to provide basic emergency medical services to the public not long ago.
Now, after finding out the license obligates fire crews to respond to more medical calls, city officials will decide whether Ellsworth should continue to administer basic EMS services or rely solely on a private entity for support.
Since 2018, Northern Light Health has primarily provided emergency medical response and ambulance services to the city. But not long after privatizing services, the city found out it also needed to have its own EMS license if its qualified firefighters, some of whom have their own EMT certifications, were going to continue to help Northern Light ambulance crews with even the most basic medical assistance.
It obligates the city’s fire department to send its EMTs to local medical emergency calls whenever they are available.
Ellsworth Fire Chief Richard Tupper told elected councilors on Monday that the city should retain its basic EMT service license.
Northern Light ambulance crews respond to roughly 800 medical calls in Ellsworth annually, he said, and maintaining the city’s basic EMT license will better allow city emergency responders to provide backup.
“Many firefighters come from EMS backgrounds,” Tupper told the council, adding that offering EMS was a natural fit for the fire department, which provides space for Northern Light ambulances and crews at its station at City Hall. “It’s been a great relationship between Northern Light and the fire department.”
Given the department’s past practice of assisting on medical calls, Tupper said he did not think maintaining the license would add any significant cost to running the department. But Glenn Moshier, the city’s police chief, told the council he was concerned that dispatching the fire department to more medical calls could put a burden on the city’s dispatchers, who handle all calls to the city police and fire departments.
The union that represents the city’s firefighters also has said the city should keep its EMT service license.
“We have the needed equipment, insurance, licenses, and personnel to provide this service,” Tyler Kennedy, president of Local 3402 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said Wednesday. “We are just trying to provide our community and citizens with the best services that we can. We feel like losing the ability to provide this life saving service would be a disservice to the citizens.”
The city’s public safety committee, comprised of councilors and city staff, will explore the logistics of maintaining the service over the long term. The committee then will report back to the council with a possible recommendation at a later date.