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Future of ambulance service discussed

  • Temple Select Board member Ken Caisse, left, Temple Select Board Assistant Gretchen Rae, Wilton Town Administrator Scott Butcher and Wilton Select Board member Kermit Williams discuss issues surrounding the Wilton Ambulance during a joint board meeting on Thursday night at the Wilton Fire Station. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • Lyndeborough Select Board Chair Fred Douglas, left, Temple Select Board member Ken Caisse, Temple Select Board Assistant Gretchen Rae and Wilton Town Administrator Scott Butcher discuss issues surrounding the Wilton Ambulance during a joint board meeting on Thursday night at the Wilton Fire Station. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, September 14, 2017

With the Wilton Ambulance Department’s only full-time position unfilled, the first question on the minds of the boards of Lyndeborough and Temple, who receive their ambulance services from Wilton, was whether or not there was adequate paramedic coverage in the department.

“I guess the concern is what day do we schedule our heart attacks?” said Lyndeborough Select Board member Mark Schultz, during a joint meeting between the Wilton, Lyndeborough and Temple Select Boards in Wilton on Thursday.

The three boards met to discuss several issues surrounding the ambulance service, spurred by the recent resignation of ambulance director Gary Zirpolo. Zirpolo was a paramedic, and as the service’s only full-time employee, did most of the weekday coverage, plus filling gaps where no other paramedic was available.

Eric Fischer, an EMT on the Wilton Ambulance, who attended Thursday’s meeting said that there has been calls where they’ve had to call for an intercept and that relying on mutual aid wasn’t going to be a long-standing solution.

Fischer said that it was very uncommon, when shifts were being covered by Zirpolo, for the ambulance to respond to a call without at least one paramedic on board, saying that in his seven years on the service, he couldn’t recall going on a call without one. In the first week of Zirpolo’s resignation, however, he said there were three or four calls where they had to request a paramedic intercept from Milford.

“We need a paramedic in Wilton, in a Wilton uniform,” said Fischer.

 

Choosing the next leader of the department

One of the main reasons the towns decided to come together to discuss ambulance issues is the upcoming hiring process for a new ambulance director, after the recent resignation of former director Zirpolo. Wilton is currently advertising for the position and will be accepting applications over the next two weeks, according to Wilton Town Administrator Scott Butcher. Currently, Wilton has received six applications for the position.

“Certainly we want to fill the position as soon as possible,” said Wilton Select Board member Kermit Williams. 

The Wilton board assured the other Select Boards that they would be involved in the interview process, as well as the Wilton fire chief and police chief, and captain and assistant chief of the ambulance. 

When the discussion turned to whether the staff was now sufficient to prevent the ambulance chief having to cover an unsustainable amount of hours, which was one of the reasons cited by Zirpolo on his resignation, Butcher explained that there have been an additional eight per diem hires since January, and that he will be recommending the department add a second full-time position to the roster for the coming budget season – a request that was also put forth last year, but not supported by the town’s budget committee.

“When we hire someone per diem, we’re not in a position to tell them what shifts to take,” said Butcher, who said the department has trouble filling daytime shifts because many per diem employees are using the ambulance to supplement day jobs. “Adding one more full-time position would give us that ability.”

Harry Dailey, of the Wilton Budget Committee, noted that the committee might be more willing to support an additional position if the town was able to close the gap on collecting fees for the ambulance.

“We’re looking at between $60,000 and $100,000 in uncollectable debt,” said Dailey. “That would more than pay for a new paramedic.”

The town has discussed whether or not to be more aggressive in its attempts to collect past-due ambulance bills, by using a collection agency, but has not made any decision on the matter. 

Tom Schultz, a Wilton resident and former member of the ambulance, cautioned against being too aggressive with collection policies, particularly against people that are repeat users of the ambulance, such as elderly people, who may hesitate to call the ambulance in the future, because they can’t afford it.

“Don’t lose sight of the fact that it is a municipal service that provides a life-saving service,” he said.

Wilton Select Board member Kellie-Sue Boissonnault assured him that they were cognizant of that issue and taking it into account in their deliberations. 

 

More input from member towns

Temple Select Board member Ken Caisse noted that he would like to have more regular discussions about the ambulance between the three boards. Though Temple and Lyndeborough contribute financially to the service, however, the ambulance service and its equipment belong to Wilton, which has ultimate authority over the department, including hiring and firing.

Wilton Select Board Chair Bill Condra told Caisse that he would not be adverse to an advisory board in addition to the ambulance association, but was clear that voting control would remain with the Wilton board.

“I will take input from anyone that wants to offer it, but I cannot promise anyone outside of Wilton will be able to make a decision,” said Condra.

Wilton Select Board member Kermit Williams agreed it was reasonable that the two other member towns be able to give their input on a regular basis, saying, “You’re putting your own money into this, you should have a say.”

Caisse indicated that he was fine with the board being advisory in capacity, as long as there was regular communication of intentions, and the towns got to indicate their preferences.

Condra suggested the boards revisit the issue of an advisory board until Wilton had hired a new ambulance director, who would likely be involved in that board. 

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertrancript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.