VASSALBORO — A group of residents, many of them licensed first responders, are asking the town for $15,000 to equip a volunteer group to respond to emergency medical calls.
A warrant article for Vassalboro’s June 2 Town Meeting, was born out of necessity, according to Jeff Foster, a Vassalboro resident and volunteer town firefighter who works as the education coordinator for Delta Ambulance.
Foster was among a group which helped create the proposal.
“The fire department does an outstanding job, but they’re not (medical) first responders, they’re firefighters,” Foster said.
Members of the Vassalboro volunteer fire department do not have the proper training and licensing to allow the department to respond to and treat medical emergencies, he said.
Foster, a licensed paramedic and an instructor coordinator for Maine Emergency Medical Services, said there have been times as a firefighter when he’s gone on a call, only to be hamstrung by the his inability to use all of his training and experience.
“It happens all the time, on the scene of a car accident, there may be a critically injured patient, and I don’t have the equipment I need to help,” Foster said. “Second of all, I couldn’t operate at my level because of the liability it would have.”
There were more than 370 emergency calls originating from Vassalboro in 2013, according to Tim Beals, executive director for Delta Ambulance, which provides emergency transportation for about two dozen central Maine communities. Vassalboro is currently one of the only communities in which Delta Ambulance provides coverage that does not have an in-town first responders program, Beals said.
In most communities, fire departments are also licensed as emergency responders and can provide the necessary medical care, Beals said. That’s not the case in Vassalboro, a town of roughly 4,300 people.
The town does not have a police deparatment, and relies on state police and the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office.
The process to become a licensed medical first responder has three steps, according to Jay Bradshaw, director of the Maine Emergency Medical Services, which approves the licensing for first responder organizations, including local fire and police departments.
The interested parties need to have completed training, which can vary from a 45-hour emergency medical responder program to a couple hundred hours of paramedic training, Bradshaw said. The proposed organization would also need to have standard emergency medical supplies on hand, such as bandages, braces, backboards and oxygen. The interested organization would file an application detailing these prerequisites before the license is approved or denied, Bradshaw said.
“From when we get that application packet, we can turn it around pretty quickly, in a matter of days,” Bradshaw said, adding that yearly appointments are scheduled to make sure the organizations are complying to the standards.
The volunteer group in Vassalboro is waiting for approval from the town before filing its application, said to Vassalboro resident Dan Mayotte, one of the organizers of the volunteer group. Mayotte is a paramedic for Delta, lieutenant for the Waterville Fire Department and volunteer firefighter in Vassalboro.
“In order to receive the licensing, we need to buy some of the equipment first,” Mayotte said. “If the town is not behind this, then we’ll drop the topic for now.”
The average response time for an emergency call into Delta from Vassalboro is about 12 minutes, Beals said. Variables such as weather, traffic and the distance of an ambulance must travel all factor into the time it takes to respond.
By establishing a first responders network in the town, Foster hopes to cut the response time in half.
“Depending on when the call is and where people are, we’re expecting someone to respond in four to six minutes,” Foster, 52, said.
In their formal proposal to the town, the group is asking for about $15,000, the bulk of which would be spent on six medical kits, including a portable defibrillator, an oxygen tank, an autoinjector to provide doses of adrenalin, which is often used in emergency treatment of health emergencies such as cardiac arrest. Each of the six kits costs about $1,600.
“This is something a couple of us have been talking about for a while,” Mayotte said.“It would be a huge commitment for the volunteer fire department to take on this responsibility, so we started asking questions and we asked the town manager ‘What if we created a separate entity?’”
Those putting the proposal together see the $15,000 as a high figure needed for startup equipment that won’t need to be purchased yearly and Delta replaces medical supplies for its first responders agencies, Foster said.
“The electrode bandages for the defibrillator cost about $100 per set and Delta replaces those,” he said. “With that four cent increase, we can provide a lot of service.”
Delta will also provide the volunteer first responders with continued training and classes to maintain their licenses, Beals said.
“In order to keep a first responder license in Maine, you have to continue to attend educational courses,” Beals said. “What we do is offer those courses for first responders and allows them to get the number of hours needed.”
Foster said about 10-15 residents have shown an interest in volunteering, with most of them already having some level of first responder licensing.
The proposal was supported by the Town Manager Mary Sabins and the selectboard, which helped push the idea on to the warrant for the June 2 Town Meeting.
If all articles are passed, it will increase the property tax by about 1 percent, or $4 per $100,000 of assessed value.
Other budget increases include an additional $66,000 for capital improvement and nearly $15,000 in public works.
The amount proposed for the paving and maintenance program is about $90,000 less than last year’s budget, while the fire department’s budget is proposed at about $35,000 less than last year’s budget.
The overall budget is about $3,782,600, roughly $37,000 more than last year’s budget.
The Town Meeting is scheduled for June 2 at 6:30 p.m. at the Vassalboro Community School.