N.H. city council approves $45K contract for backup ambulance service
Keene city officials negotiated a three-month deal with Rescue Inc. for an ambulance and EMS personnel
By Christopher Cartwright
The Keene Sentinel
KEENE, N.H. — The Keene City Council voted in unanimous support this past Thursday of negotiating a $45,000 contract with Rescue Inc. for the Brattleboro-based nonprofit to provide backup ambulance service for the Keene Fire Department through Oct. 31.
At last week’s council meeting, Keene Fire Chief Donald Farquhar said Rescue Inc.'s contract with the city for backup EMS service expired Aug. 1, but the organization has continued to provide this support with a single ambulance at the Central Station on Vernon Street. The contract of $15,000 per month for August, September and October would fund the salaries for Rescue Inc. employees stationed with the ambulance, he added.
The council voted to authorize Keene City Manager Elizabeth Dragon to negotiate and execute the contract with Rescue Inc. On Monday night, she wrote via email that the agreement would probably be signed in the next week.
“We looked at many options, and we know that this is a very important topic and a very complex topic,” Farquhar said at last week’s council meeting. “And we went through every possibility, and we feel the best option was to keep Rescue Inc. here, in the city.”
One of the alternative services is the county-run Cheshire EMS, which launched in November but has drawn friction from other area fire departments, including Keene’s. On June 8, the International Association of Firefighters union declared Cheshire EMS “a rival to the IAFF,” according to a letter posted to the Facebook page of Keene’s local union chapter.
Westmoreland — which the Keene Fire Department previously served as primary ambulance provider — signed a one-year contract with the county service in February. At the time, Farquhar told The Sentinel that if Cheshire EMS took over all of Keene’s ambulance contracts, “it would have a devastating effect on our budget.”
Then, on May 2, the private Keene-based DiLuzio Ambulance Service announced it would close the following day. Rescue Inc. stepped in to provide primary EMS services at no cost for most towns that DiLuzio had previously served, including Gilsum, Harrisville, Marlborough, Stoddard, Sullivan and Swanzey, as well as backup service for the Keene Fire Department.
Richmond was served by Cheshire EMS following DiLuzio’s closure because the county’s service was providing backup support for DiLuzio, selectboard Chair Bill Daniels told a reporter in May.
Rescue Inc. said it could provide these services for up to an initial 90 days, but that it needed most of the affected towns to sign a longer-term contract for the arrangement to remain viable. In May and June, two public meetings were held at Whitcomb Hall for towns to discuss a path forward.
On June 30, Swanzey announced it was negotiating a contract with Cheshire EMS, and other towns — including Stoddard and Harrisville — soon followed.
The cost difference between Rescue Inc. and Cheshire EMS was cited as a major deciding factor in Swanzey, as the county-run service used American Rescue Plan Act funds to help subsidize initial costs.
The Cheshire EMS proposal to Swanzey contained annual costs of $46,865, $67,030 and $81,548, according to a June 30 news release from the town. Rescue Inc.'s proposed two-year contract with Swanzey, according to the news release, would have cost $319,295 and $322,497.
Speaking with The Sentinel Monday, Dragon said discussions with the county were ongoing, but there were still questions she wanted answered before signing a contract with Cheshire EMS. These included more details about the number of calls and employees and the service’s business model.
“We hope to be able to get the answers to several questions that we have so we can better understand the capacity of the county,” Dragon said, adding that the plan is for her to report back to the city council within the 90-day window.
Cheshire County Administrator Chris Coates said Tuesday morning that Cheshire EMS is the primary EMS service for Swanzey, Harrisville, Marlborough, Stoddard, Gilsum, Westmoreland and Richmond. He added that the county service provides backup and paramedic intercept for Fitzwilliam, Troy and Winchester.
“We’re here to support, and if the city of Keene tomorrow called us, we would do what we can to be there and support them to,” Coates said. He added that the funding side of the service is “still evolving.”
“We had to ramp up not knowing what tomorrow was bringing and to be prepared for service,” he said. “Just over the last few months, [we] started to get into the 9-1-1 side ... it’s an evolving process, and we learn every single day.”
Dragon wrote via email Tuesday morning that she and Coates were working to find a date to meet in early September. At Thursday’s meeting, she also emphasized the difficulties of the EMS business model in general.
“Responding to 9-1-1 calls does not make money. We are subsidizing it,” Dragon said. “Every call that we go to costs us money, which is why we have to pay something to Rescue Inc. to keep them here.”