MONMOUTH — Selectmen weighing the future of ambulance service in town will have at least three options with widely varying price tags.

The board last week heard from the Monmouth Rescue Association, which said it would need at least $100,000 to continue a town-based rescue service.

This week, two other agencies threw their hats into the ring with bids to contract with the town for ambulance service. All of those options, which include a plan to provide a town-based paramedic, would cost Monmouth at least $24,000 less than running its own department.

Selectmen are expected to meet with representatives of all three agencies during their Wednesday meeting.

Selectmen began the process of finding a new ambulance service last month after the rescue association, the private nonprofit that has provided coverage for more than 30 years, announced it was ending its contract with Monmouth and Wales, the only two communities for which it provides primary coverage. Association officials said a reduction in call volume and the challenges of finding qualified employees willing to work for less than competitive pay have made it increasingly difficult to provide a reliable service.

An association representative met with selectmen last week to explore the possibility of continuing the town-based service. Rescue Association President Aaron Chase said the town would need to pay more than $100,000 per year, about double its current spending, and would have to convert the service from a private nonprofit into a municipally run organization like the Police Department.

The additional $50,000 in spending would add about $12 in property taxes for every $100,000 worth of home value, according to Town Manager Curtis Lunt.

Selectmen also are exploring the idea of contracting service, and they asked Lunt to seek bid proposals from area agencies. Only Winthrop and Gardiner responded to that bid request by Tuesday’s deadline, Lunt said.

Winthrop Ambulance Service would charge the town $30,780. The agency would respond from its headquarters off U.S. Route 202.

Gardiner Fire and Rescue provided quotes for two levels of service. The first option, which would cost Monmouth $17,600, offers response from the department’s Church Street headquarters.

The second option, which would cost Monmouth $74,000, includes an ambulance response from Gardiner plus an advanced life-support first responder who would be stationed in Monmouth 12 hours per day, Monday through Friday.

Gardiner Fire Chief Mike Minkowsky, who lives in Monmouth, said the second proposal was submitted in an effort to ease selectmen’s fears about increased response times. The board had hoped bids would include prices for a staffed ambulance permanently stationed in Monmouth, but Minkowsky said the cost was prohibitive.

Instead, the Monmouth-based paramedic would be equipped with a pickup truck supplied with a complete assortment of medical gear. The first responder would not have an ambulance to take patients to the hospital, but he or she could provide advance emergency care until an ambulance arrives from Gardiner. The paramedic would be stationed in Monmouth during daytime hours Monday through Friday, which are historically the busiest times for ambulance services. Minkowsky said the town could explore developing a stable of qualified volunteers to provide first responder services on nights and weekends.

“The times it’s hard to have a paramedic available, we’d have someone right in town,” Minkowsky said. “It’s still quite expensive because of the labor costs.”

Gardiner’s ambulances are primary responders to six towns outside the city, including West Gardiner, Farmingdale, Litchfield, Randolph, Pittston and half of Chelsea. Augusta covers the other half of Chelsea. The service responds only to emergencies; it does not transfer patients from one health care facility to another. Minkowsky said that means an ambulance is less likely to be tied up on another call if there is a call in Monmouth.

“Our mission is to answer fire and EMS calls,” he said. “Our trucks are always available for E911 calls.”

Minkowsky said every Gardiner ambulance is staffed with at least one paramedic and, about 80 percent of the time, two paramedics.

“With us, we might be a little further out; but when you call, you’re guaranteed to be getting a paramedic,” he said.

Winthrop Ambulance Chief John Dovinsky, who also lives in Monmouth, told selectmen last week that his department employs about 20 people, half of whom are paramedics. The service, which covers Winthrop, Wayne, Readfield, Mount Vernon, Fayette and Manchester, handles about 850 calls per year. About 40 percent of those calls occur outside of Winthrop. The department, which has a mutual-aid agreement with Monmouth, typically answers about 20 calls; but this year that number jumped to about 50. That includes instances when Winthrop provided a paramedic to answer a call with a Monmouth emergency medical technician driving a Monmouth ambulance.

The service responds to emergencies and handles transfers.

Dovinsky said his service staffs two ambulances every day and can call a third into service when needed. He said he plans to add staff members to keep all three trucks staffed every day if Winthrop is awarded the Monmouth contract. He said the service’s headquarters, just off U.S. Route 202, would allow it to reach most Monmouth locales within a few minutes.

Dovinsky recalled a period in 1999 when Winthrop ambulances routinely responded with Monmouth rescue. He said Winthrop averaged a three-minute-faster response time because the Monmouth drivers had to leave from their homes and transfer into an ambulance before responding to the call.

“We’ve proven this,” Dovinsky said.

Lunt said selectmen would have to have a special town meeting if they decide to move forward with a service that costs more than the $50,000 that already has been approved for ambulance service through the Monmouth Rescue Association. That means voters would have to approve plans to spend another $50,000 to maintain the town-based rescue, or $74,000 for a town-based paramedic from Gardiner.

Lunt said voter approval would not be required for the town to contract with Winthrop or for standard service with Gardiner.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642 [email protected]

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