RICHMOND — By early next year, members of the Richmond Fire Department will be able to render a higher level of medical aid when they respond to accidents and fires in town.

That’s when the department’s first responders will have completed their training, Richmond Fire Chief Matt Roberge said, and by then, the department might have the equipment it needs to support that work.

“It will supplement what Gardiner provides us for (emergency medical service),” Roberge said.

Gardiner Ambulance is a regional service that covers about nine towns, including Richmond. At any given time, one or both of the Gardiner Ambulance rigs might be responding to a call or returning from a hospital transport in Augusta or Lewiston.

Roberge said when a call comes in to Richmond, having first responders in Richmond speeds up response to emergency calls in town. Currently, firefighters can administer only basic first aid and CPR.

“Gardiner has a great response time no matter what, but if we can provide the citizens with some extra assistance before Gardiner gets here and/or let Gardiner know what the call is, it’s just a good service for the town,” Roberge said.

Town and fire officials have been talking about the initiative for about a year and a half.

John Bellino, Richmond’s deputy fire chief and currently the department’s only paramedic, is spearheading the project. Richmond is the only town in Sagadahoc County without some sort of first responder service, he said.

Getting to this point has required a lot of work in the form of an application to the Maine Board of Emergency Medical Services, informational meetings and outreach in Richmond, and securing support from elected town officials and residents alike.

At Richmond’s Town Meeting in June, a straw vote of the residents who attended showed overwhelming support for the idea.

“When they asked if anyone opposed it, no one showed opposition,” Bellino said.

Richmond’s contract with Gardiner Ambulance will not be affected by this change.

“I think it’s a really good thing, personally,” Gardiner Fire Chief Al Nelson said.

The geography of the region Gardiner Ambulance serves means response times are longer to some parts of Richmond.

Having first responders in Richmond means first aid can start sooner.

“That could be as simple as providing a little psychological first aid for someone, just knowing that help is there, to CPR for someone in cardiac arrest,” Nelson said.

And having information earlier helps Gardiner Ambulance to know how to respond to a 911 call.

“The early size-up lets us know whether to send more resources or fewer resources,” Nelson said.

Because the Richmond Fire Department is not a transporting agency, it requires a transporting agency to sponsor it, and that’s the role Gardiner Ambulance fills.

“It provides some checks and balances, so you don’t have some rogue first responder agency out there,” Nelson said. The department currently has one paramedic, Bellino; an emergency medical technician; and an emergency medical responder.

Bellino said nine people are in training. Eight are firefighters and one is a town resident who is interested only in becoming an EMT. The town has committed itself to pay half the cost of training up front and will reimburse the other half of the cost of those who complete the training, Bellino said. Emergency medical response training costs about $500 per person, while emergency medical technician training costs $900.

If they all successfully complete their training, Bellino said, more than half of the department’s firefighters will be certified to provide some level of medical care until an ambulance can arrive.

“We’re not starting up an ambulance service,” Bellino said. “We would hand off care to them and assist them.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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