Waterville Fire Chief Shawn Esler with the Rescue 5-8 ambulance Monday at the Waterville Fire Department. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

WATERVILLE — Fire Chief Shawn Esler has presented the City Council with a plan to collaborate with Delta Ambulance for emergency medical services.

The plan aims to increase fire department revenues, improve services and response time, and allow the fire department to hire three full-time firefighters and a per-diem employee.

City Manager Michael Roy said the plan represents a “very, very big departure from the way we’ve always done business in the city of Waterville.”

Esler told councilors Tuesday night that the plan is “extraordinarily important” to the fire department, city and Delta, a nonprofit ambulance service.

“This is a public-private partnership,” he told the council. “It could be a model for the state.”

Esler drew up a five-page description of the plan, which was conceived after the city’s Fire Department Study Committee explored the idea and Esler worked on it with Tim Beals, executive director of Delta Ambulance.

The council is scheduled to take a first vote Aug. 18. In September, councilors would take a final vote.

Beals said Tuesday that Delta’s board and executive committee reviewed and endorsed the plan. He said he must send the plan to the state for review.

“I’m confident that it should go well,” he said.

On May 13, according to the report, Esler and Beals met with Steve Diaz and Tim Pieh, medical directors for Delta and the fire department, respectively. The pair offered insight and feedback.

Officials estimate phase one would generate about $194,000 in revenue for the fire department and phase two would generate about $525,000.

Initial revenues would be used for hiring, ambulances and cutting-edge medical technology, according to the plan. The per-diem position is recommended in phase one, at a cost of $100,000, and three additional firefighter-EMTs would be required in phase two, at a cost of $250,000. The study committee recommends revenues beyond those costs be placed into a vehicle replacement account.

Esler told the council that since 1995, the fire department has seen a 28% reduction in staff and a 58% increase in calls for service. The new plan would restore that staff, he said.

“Personnel is the key to enhancing services,” he said.

Esler’s presentation came about eight months after a controversy arose when the fire department decided to purchase two used ambulances without putting them out to bid. Esler had presented a proposal to change the way the city and Delta respond to medical emergencies.

Prior to December last year, the fire department responded to medical emergencies and treated patients until Delta arrived to further treat and drive patients to hospitals. The city was not, at the time, licensed to take patients to hospitals, which requires a paramedic be on board. Esler argued that precious time was lost in such emergencies and that the fire department should be licensed to take patients to hospitals when Delta was delayed in arriving. Esler also maintained the city could generate revenues by transporting patients. At the time, some residents expressed concern about losing Delta’s expertise if such a change were to take place.

The City Council voted 6-0 Oct. 15, 2019, to buy two used ambulances for $131,000 and three days later, Mayor Nick Isgro vetoed that action, arguing the request was not put out to bid as required when city purchases exceed $10,000. The council on Dec. 3 voted 6-1 to override his veto. City Councilor Mike Morris, D-Ward 1, and then-Councilor Jay Coelho, a Democrat who represented Ward 5, served on the Fire Department Study Committee and recommended the ambulance purchases. Coelho is running for mayor in November.

Morris said Tuesday that the new plan will not require additional taxes. Coelho said the process to get to this point had been a long one.

“I’m extremely excited with what we’ve come up with,” he said. “I am thrilled.”

The new, two-phase agreement, if approved, would start Oct. 1 and the first phase would continue to July 1, 2021.

In the first phase, a Waterville Fire Department ambulance, called Waterville Rescue 5-8, would be staffed by one Waterville emergency medical technician and one Delta advanced EMT, at the fire station. Delta would staff another ambulance with an advanced EMT at its own base.

All emergency calls within the city would be evenly split between the two ambulances and geography would play a role for providing the fastest response time. Emergency calls requiring a paramedic would receive one in a quick-response Delta vehicle.

Serious calls may require help from a fire engine and crew, while less serious calls would be handled without a paramedic.

A second Waterville fire ambulance would remain as backup and would be available when resources are exhausted. Waterville would hire the per-diem employee to help provide backup coverage.

Phase two starts July 1, 2021. Differences between phase one includes a Waterville ambulance at the fire station staffed by one fire and one Delta EMT. Delta would move an ambulance to the fire station, where it would be staffed by one Waterville EMT and one advanced Delta EMT. Both firefighter positions would be new for the department. The goal is to staff both units with one paramedic during phase two.

The communications center at the Police Department would take all emergency calls, and certified medical emergency dispatchers would ask pertinent questions to help determine the level of response.

Isgro, Councilor Rick Foss, R-Ward 5, and police Chief Joseph Massey said they support the plan. Diaz said he has no concerns with it, and Pieh said he supports it.

“This is a very exciting, innovative approach to make the most of limited resources,” Pieh said. “I really congratulate everybody here.”

In other matters Tuesday, councilors took the first of two votes needed to accept a $332,128 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration  to complete a pavement preservation project at the city-owned Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport. The council also took a first vote to accept a federal 2020 Byrne Justice Assistance Grant for $12,522 to be used for law enforcement technology and equipment.

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