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NEWFANE — The Brattleboro Fire Department received approval from Vermont EMS District 13 to become a paramedic service by July 1, a project that caused some contention in the recent split between the town and Rescue Inc.

"The big thing for us is it's going to take a lot of work to build a service, which I expect," said Dr. Jim Suozzi, medical director for the District 13 region.

At a meeting Wednesday at the NewBrook Fire Station in Newfane, the district's board voted to allow the Brattleboro Fire Department to become a paramedic licensed service effective July 1. Drew Hazelton, head of operations at Rescue, abstained.  

Reorganizing before any business took place, the board elected Putney Fire Chief Tom Goddard to take over as chairman. Hazelton, former chairman, said he previously opposed the request because an application was incomplete. 

On Wednesday, Brattleboro Assistant Fire Chief Charles "Chuck" Keir III said the department feels it has met all the requirements. Will Moran, EMS chief at the Vermont Department of Health, noted the region's medical director then the chairperson would need to sign off on the request before it comes to his office for consideration to ensure it satisfies the requirements of an EMS rule. 

"I think certainly within a couple of weeks we can typically have an answer back for the applicant," Moran said. 

Hazelton asked Moran to clarify that the process wasn't being held up by him when he was chairman, as alleged by Brattleboro town officials. 

"That is correct," Moran said, adding that the application was still pending a week-and-a-half ago. 

Keir said the department posted a public notice of the request and received no comments after 30 days. 

"I think the most challenging thing is getting people credentialed and making sure they're good to go," Suozzi said, noting quality improvement plan is being created. 

Keir said the department has a contract with Brattleboro Memorial Hospital Pharmacy, standard operating plans for credentialing and continuing education, and a memorandum of understanding with the hospital for all department personnel to get clinical time to build skills, radio systems, insurance and a background check system.

Suozzi will need to see a purchase order showing any needed equipment is on its way. 

"That would address any concerns I have," he said. 

For considering a license for Cross Ambulance Services to transport in Brattleboro, Keir asked the board to schedule a meeting for the week of May 16. On Tuesday, the Select Board authorized Town Manager Yoshi Manale to execute a contract with the company for one year in which the department plans to study the feasibility of becoming a joint fire/EMS provider. 

With the upcoming changes, Hazelton wanted to discuss how the district would be adapting. 

"I think there will be bumps in the road and just like anything else, we'll overcome them as we go along, correct things as they come along and keep going," Goddard said. "Above and beyond that, any greater than that or more specifically than that, I don't know." 

Keir said he hopes the department is prepared "to keep those bumps limited."

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"I know from our perspective, things will certainly be different," Hazelton said, expecting a reallocation of services and a discussion about mass casualty planning. 

Goddard said agencies with those plans will need to revamp them. He called for trying to anticipate "hiccups" and dealing with them ahead of time.

"Those that can't be forecasted then deal with them when they come," he said. "This is a huge change for the district and a lot of it we just have to wait and see."

Guilford Fire Chief Jared Bristol asked how things with Rescue might change for his community, Dummerston and Vernon. 

"We're very hopeful it will have little impact on the services you receive," Hazelton said. "We're pretty confident you'll be able to get it to the same level they've been received." 

Hazelton expects his group's response to bigger incidents might not be as robust as before and they might not be able to get to as many incidents outside of member towns. 

"We won't know how that's really going to look like for a little bit of time into the future," Goddard said. 

In an interview, Keir said Brattleboro has been working on the application for paramedic service since September. The department has handled EMS calls since 2000. 

After the feasibility study regarding the joint fire/EMS provider, Keir expects to return to the board to seek approval for paramedic transport. The department plans to add staff and provide additional training to current members. 

In an interview, Hazelton said the reorganization of the district board had been planned for months but responding to COVID-19 prevented it from happening earlier. He said he and Suozzi met with Goddard in January about taking on the chairmanship, a post he's held before.

More details about the impact of the changes within Rescue are anticipated to be discussed at a meeting in May. Members of select boards will be invited to attend. 

Hazelton said he invited Brattleboro town officials to "a dialogue" but they aren't interested and haven't reached back out. Asked what financial documents the town was seeking before contract negotiations went south, he said Manale wanted to see patient revenue specific to Brattleboro. 

"We don't separate revenue by town," Hazelton said. 

Hazelton said he also couldn't meet a request to take away the town's assessment and rely only on patient revenue because then Rescue would have to do that for every town. 

"Everywhere, EMS needs to be subsidized," he said. 

Rescue charges member towns on a per-capita rate.