Officials Consider EMS Upgrade

In what must have been the safest room in the Tri-Town, more than a dozen representatives from the Rochester Police and Fire departments, Cape and Islands Emergency Medical Services, the Board of Selectmen, and various administrative divisions gathered on March 21 to discuss a major change for local rescue crews.

Currently, Rochester’s EMS and Fire Rescue is designated Basic Life Support, which means personnel is limited to firefighters who work with restricted resources, responsibilities, and procedures. For instance, if a Rochester resident calls 911 with chest pain, a local ambulance is neither equipped nor authorized to transport the patient to the hospital. They would have to liaison with an Advanced Life Support-designated ambulance from a neighboring town at some point along the route and release the patient to the ALS personnel.

In Cape and Islands EMS Region 5, Rochester and Nantucket are the only towns that are not currently at ALS level. Local officials are pushing for this to change by way of an article at the Rochester Town Meeting on May 20.

“There are financial matters to consider, but the most important consideration is the level of care we are providing people,” said Rochester Fire Department Chief Scott Weigel. “I think the townspeople deserve it, and I think the townspeople will vote for it.”

The ALS status would bring with it a need for more personnel and equipment, costs that are estimated to come to more than $375,000. But RFD Lieutenant and EMS Coordinator Kevin Richards explained that those costs will be offset by both an equipment grant from St. Luke’s Hospital for the town’s two ambulances and additional revenue opportunities from a call volume increase and increased billing reimbursements, based on past years’ figures.

“There’s an opportunity cost right now,” Richards said. “We’re missing out on revenue that could be ours, and yet we’re still doing a great deal of the work when those calls come in. ALS status will aid us greatly in these life and death matters, while also erasing that loss of revenue.”

Richards cited a 40 percent increase in the number of Rochester ambulance runs since fiscal year 2010 in advocating for ALS status. He attributed the jump to weather, auto accidents, and an aging population.

“This year, we had 184 from January to March alone, due mainly to the February blizzard,” he said. “We had 65 in that same time frame last year.”

Weigel, Richards, Chief Dispatcher Tracy Eldridge, and other local rescue personnel were joined by Director Bill Flynn and Deputy Director Alden Cook of the Cape and Islands EMS Region 5, as well as David Faunce, Regional Director of the EMS Council of Southeastern Massachusetts, in fielding questions from Rochester Selectmen Bradford Morse, Richard Nunes, and Naida Parker, and Town Administrator Richard LaCamera. The officials foresaw issues surrounding management, labor, questions about contracting private ambulance companies, and budgetary concerns, but the consensus was to continue moving forward with the initiative pending more scrutiny from the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee. The next Board of Selectmen meeting will take place on April 8, when the item is mostly likely to be revisited.

By Shawn Badgley

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