RICHMOND — There’s a public-sector-versus-private-sector battle underway, with the prize being the right to provide Richmond with ambulance service.

Either way, Richmond stands to come out of it with ambulance service provided at no cost to the town.

The only question: Will it be the current provider, the private North East Mobile Health Services; or the public Gardiner Ambulance, which provided the service up until Richmond switched to North East to save money in 2008?

Richmond selectmen voted last May to award a three-year contract to North East, which serves Richmond with ambulances based in Topsham and Dresden, pending a review of the contract by an attorney. The deal would not cost the town anything, as North East would cover its costs in the fees charged to users in Richmond.

However, the contract language wasn’t finalized until recently, when both sides agreed to response time standards to be included in the contract, which hasn’t been signed.

Kevin McGinnis, chief of North East, said now that the details have been worked out, the contract should go to his firm, which he said has been providing ambulances and emergency medical technicians to the town for nearly a year.

“There was an official motion contingent on working out the details of the contract,” McGinnis said. “We feel we’ve done that. We’ve been operating in good faith for a year now, and it’s no little cost to staff up and then hope somebody doesn’t come along and shut the door on you.”

In the meantime, Gardiner Ambulance, which previously charged Richmond a service charge — which, for most of the towns it covers, has been between $8,000 and $12,000 — went to Richmond with an improved offer that would waive the service charge and thus, like North East’s proposal, cost the town nothing.

Gardiner Fire Chief Michael Minkowsky said Gardiner offered Richmond the no-service-charge deal because having the additional revenue from user fees in Richmond would help reduce the costs of other municipalities that rely on Gardiner for ambulance service, including Litchfield, West Gardiner, Farmingdale, Randolph and Pittston.

“We’re anxious to see what happens,” Minkowsky said of the decision Richmond faces on which provider to choose. “We have an outstanding service. We offer a lot — not just ambulance service, but fire protection and technical rescue as well.”

Richmond selectmen are scheduled to discuss and potentially decide the issue at their meeting tonight, which begins at 6 p.m at the Town Office.

One issue that delayed the contract going to North East, McGinnis and town officials said, was an agreement about response times.

McGinnis said North East officials met with Richmond’s fire and police chiefs and agreed to include language in the contract stating that if North East’s average response time to Richmond approaches 17 minutes, they would meet to discuss steps to improve the response time.

McGinnis said that in 2012 and the first quarter of this year, North East’s response time to Richmond averaged 15.1 minutes; but in the last month, they’ve taken steps including having an ambulance and crew positioned in Dresden more frequently, which brought the average response time down to 12.2 minutes for the month of April.

Gardiner, according to data provided by Minkowsky, averages just over 7-minute response times in its current coverage area. And when Gardiner last served Richmond, in 2008, its response times to Richmond incidents averaged about 16 minutes.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]