WATERVILLE — City officials propose the Fire Department become a full emergency medical transport service as part of a $1.72 million plan aired for the first time at a City Council budget workshop Thursday night — four days before the council takes a first vote on a proposed municipal budget for 2022-23 that would include the funding.

The Fire Department plan calls for hiring eight firefighters who also would be emergency medical technicians or paramedics, and two administrative people: a deputy chief for EMS and a training officer for both EMS and fire. Fire Chief Shawn Esler said projected revenues with the new structure would be $1.25 million, so the net cost to the city would be $461,000.

The council on Tuesday is scheduled to take a first vote on a proposed $53.3 million municipal and school budget for 2022-23 and the funding for the Fire Department expansion is included in the municipal budget total of $24.9 million, according to City Manager Steve Daly. The proposed school budget is $28.4 million, he said.

At least one city councilor, Claude Francke, D-Ward 6, objected to voting on such a major change in the Fire Department without first holding a public hearing so residents can weigh in. He said the plan was first aired in an executive session a few days ago where councilors heard from Esler and the medical director for the Fire Department, but no residents had a chance to hear about the plan or give input.

Francke also noted that Delta Ambulance, which three years ago was the sole ambulance service transporting patients to hospitals in Waterville, decided to pull out of a partnership with the Fire Department as of July 1. Councilors, he said, have not had a chance to speak with Delta officials to hear their side of the story and none were present at the workshop Thursday night.

“We don’t have a whole lot of input from the public, and I think before we make a major change in the structure and mission of the Fire Department that we find out what the public thinks,” Francke said.


Council Chairperson Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4, acknowledged it was a big step and information should be provided to the public, who also should be able to give input before the council decides.

In 2019, Mayor Jay Coelho, who was then a city councilor, and Councilor Michael Morris, D-Ward 1, advocated with Esler for buying used ambulances so the Fire Department could become licensed to transport patients to hospitals. Both Delta and Waterville firefighters responded to emergencies such as vehicle crashes, but only Delta, which employed paramedics, could transport patients.

Esler said at the time that Delta sometimes was late to arrive to accidents and other calls and he wanted to ensure the Fire Department could help transport patients in the instances Delta could not be there more quickly. He said he did not plan for the Fire Department to become a full transport service.

The department ultimately became licensed to transport, bought two used ambulances in 2019, and the city in 2020 formed a partnership with Delta for transport service. But Esler recently asked that a study be done on EMS services in the city, while acknowledging the outcome could lead to the city’s terminating its relationship with Delta and going on its own for ambulance services. The department asked Delta officials to fund half of that study, but Delta declined, having recently had its own study done by the same company.

Delta officials decided to pull out of its agreement with the city in May, saying the city hired away four of its employees, which made it more difficult to collaborate with a partner that did that.

Some city officials said two years ago they believed a city ambulance service could pay for itself, but Coelho on Thursday acknowledged that may not be the case.

“The ambulance service is never going to pay for itself,” he said. “This isn’t about money. It’s about the quality of service that we are going to provide to our residents.”

Councilor Thomas Klepach, D-Ward 3, said emergency response in Waterville is a high priority, with Francke saying Delta has long provided that response.

“We have a private company that’s been in town for 50 years providing that service,” he said. “I really don’t see why Waterville needs to step in and take over regional ambulance service.”

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