Tim Wessel

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A few weeks have gone by since the Brattleboro Select Board decided unanimously to move towards a municipal fire department-based emergency medical services (EMS) system by contracting with Golden Cross for local ambulance service for the next year, ending a long relationship with Rescue Inc.

Understandably, there has been many who have expressed a sense of loss, given the excellent care that has been given to Brattleboro residents by the providers at Rescue. Believe me when I say that I have heard plenty from those who feel this loss deeply for our community, and I respect that this contract change has felt jarring to many, including members of my own family.

I’d like to take a moment here to speak not to what we have lost, but to what Brattleboro will ultimately gain with our decision.

Moving to a fire/EMS system shifts us away from a partnership with a private, unaccountable entity into one that is directly accountable to the taxpayers and residents of Brattleboro. The skills and dedication of Rescue, Inc. employees are beyond question, but with our new model, those skills and responsibility will be resting with town employees, not outside contractors. This means that the actions taken by our own paramedics, advanced EMTs, and EMTs will be directly accountable to the Brattleboro Fire Department leadership, our town manager and Select Board, and ultimately the voters of Brattleboro. We will gain professional accountability.

From a financial perspective, for a community the size of Brattleboro to contract one piece of the care people receive, the ambulance transport to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, does not make sense. Moving towards a fire/EMS system allows your town to directly receive the Medicare/Medicaid and insurance reimbursements back into taxpayers’ control and the general fire budget. Often, in a medical emergency, both Rescue and BFD are responding to the same scene, making taxpayers essentially pay for both teams being there at the scene. An examination of other communities who are contracting their ambulance service showed that Brattleboro was being overcharged, and that bringing the transport into town service would prove to be self-supporting based upon the many other towns that operate a fire/EMS system. We will gain financial oversight and control.

From a care perspective, another potentially dangerous inefficiency will be corrected. Brattleboro Fire already responds to over half of the calls received and begins care. In those cases, why should there be a transfer of care from skilled town medical providers to contracted ambulance providers? Even with the best of protocols, mistakes could happen when the transfer occurs. From a patient perspective, why would I want one provider to take my info and evaluate need, only to be handed over to another transport provider who I must now trust to continue that excellent care? The only transfer of medical care that should happen is the one patient handover to the intake nurse or doctor at BMH. We will gain continuity of care.

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Just as many would rightly object to hiring an outside private security to protect our streets, we should recognize the advantages of using our own talented employees, not contractors, to care for our residents from the moment of crisis all the way to the hospital.

This will increase accountability, ensure that these important caregivers are career-minded union members with excellent town benefits and pay, and directly accountable to you, the taxpayer.

As your Select Board has made very clear, this upcoming year of transition with Golden Cross, a company that has a track record of assisting with this type of transition, will be one of building, of evaluation, and of confirmation that all is in place properly before the final fire/EMS posture is approved by the board. We have committed to a third-party independent review of our protocols which has already been budgeted, and of course will be following all state guidelines for licensure and professional review.

Brattleboro Fire Department has been providing excellent EMS services in our town for over 20 years. In 2021, there were 2,747 calls for EMS service in Brattleboro. BFD was the primary responder to 1,367 of the priority one calls, and I have heard no reports that Brattleboro Fire responded with anything less than the excellence with which we have come to expect from our skilled, kind and courteous employees. They are ready.

Brattleboro Fire’s motto is “Our Town, Our People, Our Responsibility.” Please join your Select Board’s faith in our well-known, trusted fire/EMS employees, and support us as we slowly move Brattleboro toward this continuous EMS care model from the response scene all the way to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. We have much to gain from our new path forward for our community’s safety and care.

Tim Wessel is serving his sixth year on the Brattleboro Select Board, after serving as both chair and vice chair. He is a candidate for the Vermont Senate for the Windham District. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.