When Whitefield’s current emergency medical services chief leaves town later this year, the town’s ability to maintain an active department will likely go with him.
Meeting with the Whitefield Select Board on Wednesday, July 6, Whitefield EMS Chief Ben Caron said he plans to move closer to his place of employment, and once he does so, there is nobody available to replace him in town. Caron works full time as a firefighter in Ellsworth. He is one of two active EMS providers in the Whitefield department, he said.
“I am moving out of the town in a couple months at this point, moving closer to my job,” Caron said, “(Whitefield Fire Chief Jesse Barton) and I have discussed the fact that once I move, there is really no EMS department anymore. There is no one to run it. There is nobody to respond to calls other than the one we have, who is out of town equally as much as I am.”
In discussion, the board and Caron kept circling back to the lack of volunteers available to provide services in the area. The consensus of comments agreed finding volunteers is a widespread problem, not limited to Whitefield.
Eventually, the board agreed to meet with fire department officials in the near future to brainstorm ideas to solve the problem.
“When I started, there were three of us. Then there were five of us. Now there are two,” Caron said.
“This is concerning, we won’t have first responders in town,” said board Vice Chair Charlene Donahue. “Jesse (Barton) is having a hard time finding firefighters right now.”
Responding to a question, Caron said the town is obligated to contract with a transporting service so at minimum, when a resident calls 911, an ambulance will be dispatched. Whitefield is contracted with Delta Ambulance Services out of Augusta.
The issue is how long it will take for that ambulance to arrive and the standard of care available to the patient in the interim.
“We have the bigger issue because we are so far away from a transporting ambulance and the fact we don’t have one ourselves,” Caron said. “If we had 10 EMS/fires on staff, I would say let’s increase the budget and get ourselves an ambulance and transport patients on our own, but that requires big bucks.”
“Even more than that it requires people,” Donahue said. “We are talking about a major commitment in terms of training and availability.”
Caron said private ambulance contractors, like Delta, are increasingly disappearing as more municipalities professionalize EMS and firefighting services. Discussion turned to the increasing likelihood that rural towns like Whitefield are going to eventually have to hire emergency services help.
Caron suggested an ideal scenario would have someone hired to provide EMS services and support the fire department, which would be in step with the industry trend, he said.
“It’s hard to have a department, at least in my opinion on the career side of things, it is hard to have fire only,” Caron said. “These days the fire EMS world has merged and it has become primarily EMS.”
Between EMS calls, the hypothetical employee could clean and maintain the station, manage paperwork, maintain equipment and answer whatever queries from the public as they come in, Caron said.
“A lot of them are responsible for cleaning the station, checking out the trucks every morning. In general, just being here ready to go,” Caron said. “It could be a firefighter/EMS position. If a structure fire comes in, they jump in the engine and bring that to start, because another very difficult task at this point is getting an engine out the door to a fire.”
According to Caron’s research, wages for certified emergency medical technicians range from $20-$27 per hour.
“Something to think about as well, you can’t just hire one person,” Caron said, adding later. “You need at least two people … If you were to do, say 12 hour shifts, I’d say you would want to have four people, just to be able to stagger it well.”
The Whitefield Select Board will next meet at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, July 19.