BRATTLEBORO — Golden Cross Ambulance and the Brattleboro Fire Department are now responding to emergency calls in town.
“The last couple of months have been busy,” Fire Chief Len Howard said.
Since the town announced in April that it would no longer be partnering with Rescue Inc. because of contract disputes, the Fire Department has been preparing to start working Friday with Golden Cross of Claremont, N.H. The hope is to create a joint fire/EMS service. A feasibility study is underway to explore how to make that transition.
Howard said the latest fire department in which Golden Cross embedded its ambulances is Littleton, N.H. That department transitioned to handling its EMS calls without Golden Cross.
For state licenses, Howard said his department worked to get one to run a paramedic-level service and with Golden Cross to get one to operate its ambulance service in Brattleboro. He described the projects as “two very big hurdles.”
The Fire Department has been sending staff to the emergency department at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital to get more oriented with the hospital’s staff and their procedures. In the past, Howard said, Fire Department personnel have only minimally gone into the emergency department or called to ask doctors questions.
Now, the department will be involved in patient care and transport. Some staff are employed by other ambulance services in the state on their days off, and some have worked for Rescue Inc. in the past, Howard said.
Back in 2000, the Fire Department began handling first response calls with Rescue. At the time, Howard said, the majority of staff were emergency medical technicians or emergency medical responders.
Fire Department staff currently includes five advanced EMTs, 16 EMTs and two paramedics.
“Our staff can provide much higher level treatment than we were able to 20 years ago and moving forward from today on up, we’ll continue to improve our staff’s capabilities,” Howard said. “We have three of our staff that are enrolled in a paramedic class starting in September.”
Howard said the department has reached a tentative agreement with the town for providing incentives to help get staff trained and compensated for extra duties.
For the last month and a half, Golden Cross has been bringing one of its ambulances to Brattleboro. A second one began appearing in town about two weeks ago, and the third started coming this week.
Fire Department staff have been training with the ambulances and learning how everything works, Howard said. If the ambulances are tied up with other calls, multiple fire vehicles can be used for providing first response care but not transport.
Part of the new responsibilities include dispensing medication stored on the ambulance and obtained from the hospital’s pharmacy.
Assistant Fire Chief Charles “Chuck” Keir III said as each certification level goes higher, there’s more responsibility and dispensing of more highly controlled substances. The pharmacy will work with the department to reduce waste and reuse medications.
Anyone who is trained as an EMR or higher can drive the ambulances, so anyone on the department can currently do so.
“Each one of our members go through a driver training program once a year,” Keir said. “So they have to run through the cones, a set of cones and take a class basically for defensive driving and stuff like that.”
Keir said when someone is in the back of an ambulance, “it’s kind of like being in a fishbowl.”
“Taking a turn in your Toyota Corolla is far different than taking a turn in an ambulance, where you could be throwing a provider around or just making it uncomfortable as they slosh back and forward,” he said.
Fire Department staff previously would drive an ambulance for Rescue or help in the back of an ambulance if needed, Keir said.
“Part of this whole process is learning the ambulances inside and out, not only knowing where the wipers are, but how it feels as it goes around a corner or what bumps in town are more of a bump in the back of an ambulance than a firetruck,” he said.
Keir expects residents to see “very little change in any level of service.”
“If they noticed that the ambulance is red and white versus orange and white, that should be the only level of change that they noticed,” he said.
Howard and Keir also believe there will be improvements when it comes to cutting down on the number of transfers of care in transporting patients to the hospital.
“I think it’s important that the public knows that we’re prepared to do this,” Keir said. “And we’ve prepared for the last 20 years to get to this point, or that’s even an understatement. Since 1831, we’ve been continuing to evolve as a department, and more so in the last 20 years. And then, when the decision was made two months ago, it’s been nonstop preparation to get us to the point of July 1. And the community should notice no change other than their loved one is getting to the hospital in a timely manner with a clinical plan in place that is being provided to them by BFD staff and Golden Cross.”
Asked if it’s been stressful getting prepared for the new setup, Howard said, “It’s a lot to do in a short amount of time.”
“It’s not the path that I think anybody either wanted or expected,” Keir said. “But when they asked, we proceeded to get to work, and that’s what we do.”
Meanwhile, town officials are in talks with Rescue Inc. about potentially paying for mutual aid in what they believe will be rare cases.
“We look forward to rebuilding a healthy working relationship between the two entities towards our shared goal of maintaining the health and safety of the people we serve,” Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland wrote in a letter sent to Rescue’s board of trustees late last week. “Other organizations who will engage in EMS mutual aid with the town of Brattleboro provide the service without charge. However, we are open to negotiating a price for EMS mutual aid from Rescue Inc. based upon a reasonable fee per incident from the town on top of what Rescue Inc. might bill the patient or the patient’s insurance.”
In a Facebook post Thursday, Rescue wrote, “On the eve of July 1, we wanted to take a moment to thank the community in the town of Brattleboro for the honor to serve you for 56 years.”
“We are deeply grateful for all the support and appreciation shown to us over the past few months,” the post states. “We also wanted to make a huge shout-out and thank you to the folks at Brattleboro Central Dispatch for always having our backs and keeping our providers safe, as well as the officers at the Brattleboro Police Department. Lastly, we want to wish Brattleboro Fire Department & Golden Cross Ambulance, Inc. luck with your future endeavors!”