During a special meeting Thursday evening, the Winslow Town Council voted to delay its decision on whether to authorize the purchase of two used ambulances and related equipment for the fire department to begin its own ambulance service.

The decision came after Councilman Ben Twitchell made a motion to postpone the vote in order to gather more information.

“I don’t feel we have enough information to make this decision,” Twitchell said. “I’ve been getting several calls a day. It’s all people saying we’re rushing into this … we need to get more data before we push this through.” 

Winslow’s ambulance committee voted 4-2 on March 23 to recommend the town purchase the ambulances.

“I’m not trying to argue; just trying to be clear,” council member Patricia Ayer said. “There was a specific committee made to address this. If anyone has concerns, I want to be able to provide the information. We’ve been doing this for 18 months. In my opinion we’ve gone above and beyond to get the information out there …” 

Twitchell said residents have felt as though they haven’t gotten a chance to weigh in on the decision and still have questions surrounding the cost of the service.

Since coming to the job as Winslow fire chief in 2018, Ronnie Rodriguez has expanded the staff, increased medical training and sought to add an ambulance service. The Winslow Town Council decided Thursday to give the public extra time to send in questions about the proposed ambulance service before Monday night’s meeting. Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

The total cost of purchasing the ambulances and related equipment is $204,400, according to the spreadsheet created by Fire Chief Ronnie Rodriguez.

Rodriguez said during Thursday’s meeting that he made the cost estimates based on conversations he had with other fire chiefs in Maine whose departments operate their own ambulance services.

The cost of the services include $120,000 for the ambulances, $4,300 for insurance, $5,000 for maintenance, $2,100 for the Medical Director, $50,000 for the equipment, $12,500 for the warranty on the equipment and $10,500 for billing fees.

In its first year, the ambulance service would cost the town about $29,000. In its second year, its projected to generate $149,000 in revenue.

The money to buy the ambulances and equipment would come from the Fire Department’s capital account and wouldn’t raise the town’s tax rate, according to Town Manager Michael Heavener.

After Twitchell made the motion, the council discussed the underlying questions surrounding the services, beginning with whether the fire department currently has paramedics on staff.

According to Rodriguez, there are no paramedics currently at the department, but there are five employees enrolled in a course at Kennebec County Community College to get their paramedic licenses.

“It began in February, ends in December, and the COVID-19 situation hasn’t postponed the class,” Rodriguez said. “Once they finish the class and take the tests, you receive your certification.” 

Rodriguez said the fire department is already providing EMT services, but the purchase of the ambulances and having licensed paramedics on staff would be the last piece to make it a fully functioning ambulance service.

“We’re already running all of these calls,” Rodriguez said. “We’re the ones providing the immediate care for the patients that are in our town.” 

The fire department currently has eight employees and one vacancy on its roster.

Rodriguez also explained that though the fire department would have its own ambulance service, it would continue to work with Delta Ambulance as a mutual aid partner.

“Currently Delta is our mutual aid and my goal is to continue to work in a cooperative spirit,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t see a problem continuing working cooperatively with them, but the region is short on first responders … my goal has always been to bring more personnel to our region, and with adding a transport service to Winslow, we’ve increased transport capabilities of the region.” 

Unlike Delta, the Winslow ambulance service wouldn’t perform inter-hospital transportation.

“We’re strictly looking to provide a means for our citizens to get to the hospital,” Rodriguez said. “We’d be transporting to Thayer, Inland, Augusta, Skowhegan if necessary. But if people are concerned that we’d be taking a patient to Portland, that’s not within protocol. The protocol calls for getting the patient to the closest definitive hospital. If they need care somewhere else, that’s when organizations that have inter-facility licenses would step in. That’s why Delta takes people to Portland, Boston …” 

Council members also wanted to clear up speculation between the ambulance services and the impending fire station renovation project.

“The renovations and the ambulances are not related,” Ayer said. “There’s renovations that need to be made there.” 

According to Heavener, talk of renovations has been in the works for more than two years.

“This isn’t an ulterior motive,” Rodriguez said. “The facilities were never designed for 24-hour staffing and I can tell you right now we’re out of room. I understand the correlation. It can be skewed that I’m using this to get a new station built. That’s not the case. When I was hired, the discussion on a new station was already in the works …” 

Rodriguez said he has found two vehicles, one for $58,000 and one for $29,500, that are in good condition.

Councilman Lee Trahan shared his opinion on authorizing the services.

“Prior to being on the council, I have used transportation services several times,” Trahan said. “Seeing a Winslow EMT show up at my house, seeing a familiar face really helped the situation a lot, knowing I’m being helped by locals in my community …”  

Councilman Raymond Caron shared similar feelings.

“Every family is touched at sometime by Winslow rescue,” Caron said. 

After the council discussed questions with Rodriguez, members unanimously voted to table the topic until Monday to allow residents to send in any remaining questions.

Residents with questions should send them to townofwinsl[email protected] by noon on Monday. Questions will be reviewed by the town manager to be answered at that evening’s council meeting.

Former councilman Ken Fletcher, who has been vocal about his questions and concerns over the ambulance service, said he was pleased that the council decided to wait.

“That was a wise thing to do because I think there are some unanswered questions,” Fletcher said during a phone call Friday. “One question I still have is when they’re actually going to have a public hearing … ” 

Monday’s council meeting begins at 7 p.m. and will be streamed through Zoom at vimeo.com/400962679 and on YouTube, the Crossroads TV Facebook page and cable channel 1301.

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