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Study Recommends Paid EMS Chief, Separation From Fire Service

Current town of Canton volunteer Fire and EMS Department Chief praises some ideas but disagrees with having separate departments.

A committee has recommended the town hire a new chief of Emergency Medical Services, separate the service from the fire department and provide additional incentives for volunteers.

The EMS Study Committee presented its recommendations to the Board of Selectmen Wednesday evening. 

The committee has met since January and compiled data, met with area providers and surrounding municipalities, looked at various systems, and more. The committee included current EMS volunteers, firefighters, police representative and residents at large.

Issues they look at included:

  • Long delays in paramedic response
  • Inadequate documentation
  • Inadequate run form review
  • Inadequate reporting
  • Higher than average refusal rates
  • Low billing recovery rates
  • Inconsistent responses
  • Unfilled shifts
  • Low membership
  • Lack of training classes
  • Shortage of crew leaders
  • And equipment and gear shortage

Study chairman Myles Angell said some of those issues have improved greatly since the committee first met but contended that the workload, shift scheduling, paperwork, recruitment and other aspects were more than volunteers should have to handle.

The committee also says that an EMS Department head would pretty quickly cover its salary since he or she could pursue better pursue service payments and other financial opportunities. The person would also be a crew member, allowing the town to somewhat decrease its contracted weekday ambulance service, Angell said.

He also pointed out that ambulance calls were the majority of those received by the town of Canton Volunteer Fire and EMS Department. Through July 1, 2012, 390, or approximately 74 percent of the 530 calls were for EMS.

“The EMS service is so important in this town that it can’t play second fiddle, “ Angell said.

Richard Hutchings, who is chief of the town of Canton volunteer Fire and EMS Department, could not make the meeting but talked to Patch earlier in the week. He said he appreciates the comprehensive study and likes many of the suggestions but does not agree with a new department.

“I don’t believe there is a need to create another identity in the public service realm,” he said. “I think we can address their concerns within the hierarchy.” 

Hutchings said had several reasons for the belief, including cross training. Many firefighters are also EMTs and with new training requirements firefighters will need to be trained for both.

Putting those volunteers under two separate departments would be difficult from an administrative stanpoint, Hutchings said.

“We have one set of membership rules and one set of expectations,” Hutchings said, adding there is a trend to combine services, not separate them.

Wednesday EMT and committee member David Bondanza said the group had a lot of discussion about the question of separating the services.

“We talked about this at length,” he said. “(Separate departments) works in Simsbury; it works in Granby and it works in other towns. I applaud the efforts of (EMS division Deputy Chief) Dave Kemp and (EMS Division Assistant Chief) John Bunnell. They’re burning themselves out in my opinion.”

Committee member Alex Morisano compared the argument to keep the departments combined to one of having a “public safety chief” to run fire and police. 

Morisano acknowledged separate departments could allow for disagreements or challenges but added that the committee saw the many positive opportunities as well.

Committee member Julius Fialkiewicz said the town is losing out on revenue chances and losing too much money.

“EMS is a business,” he said. “It can make money. It’s a mentality change. I think as a town we’re losing some of that potential.”

The study committee also recommends the town upgrade to a paramedic level of service. Currently it operates at an intermediate level but paramedics can give medicines and offer a higher level of service. The town now has a contract with UConn Health Center when a paramedic is needed. In 2011, it took an average of 16.95 minutes for paramedic "arrival," according to the study.

Angell acknowledged it would increase costs but said it could increase revenue as well. In addition the state may eventually require the town provide that level of service or a much more basic one.

Selectmen said the hope to look further at the study and will likely discuss it again in October.

For more details see the attached report or the presentation to the board, a shorter version of it. 

Those who want to hear the full conversation can find a recording of the meeting on the town's web site. A right mouse click, or two finger click, should allow users to download the recording and skip through parts of the meeting. 

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