Maine town's suspension of fire-EMS could trigger state investigation
Officials say the town suspended EMS operations due to COVID-19 exposure concerns without giving proper notice to the community and state licensing agency
Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine
LEWISTON, Maine — Rumford officials reportedly suspended that town’s emergency medical services without giving proper notice to the community and the state’s licensing agency, a move that could trigger an investigation and possibly lead to decertification and fines, a state official said.
Maine EMS Director Sam Hurley said Friday that his office received notification Monday from Rumford officials that they had a week earlier — on March 16 — voted to order their town’s Fire Department to stop responding to EMS emergencies.
“That was the first time they had officially notified us that they were not responding to emergencies,” Hurley said.
Under Maine EMS system rules, the town was required to give 30 days' notice to his office and to the community before suspending emergency medical services, Hurley said.
When an emergency medical service elected to cease all responses to medical emergencies, Hurley said his agency would construe that as surrendering their license to operate in the state of Maine.
Agencies that fail to provide the proper 30-day notice before ceasing to respond to medical emergencies may be referred to his agency’s investigations committee for review, he said.
“I can’t speak to the investigations committee and what they are or aren’t reviewing at this time,” he said, adding, “I can’t say whether or not (Rumford’s action) will go to the committee.”
Any EMS service or individual can be referred to an investigations team at Maine EMS, which has certified Maine’s more than 5,000 EMTs.
Investigators will look into all aspects of the situation, then present that information to the committee, who, in turn, will make a recommendation to the board at Maine EMS, Hurley said.
The board will make a final determination, based on the recommendation of the committee, he said.
The board has the authority to revoke a license and bring a disciplinary action and/or a fine.
The Sun Journal reported earlier this week that Rumford Fire Chief Chris Reed had recommended to the Board of Selectmen that the Fire Department terminate its EMS services during the pandemic to prevent firefighter exposure to the coronavirus.
The board voted to approve Reed’s recommendation.
Exceptions would be made for calls involving trauma and immediate life-threatening incidents, he had said.
The Rumford Fire Department, according to Reed, has just 10 full-time employees, with one person already out on medical leave.
“The loss of any to illness would have a huge impact,” Reed had said.
The five members of the Fire Department who work part-time for Med-Care Ambulance were asked to voluntarily stop working until the pandemic has passed, according to Reed.
In Jay, Fire Rescue Chief Mike Booker told the Sun Journal that he and his staff are “not responding to all medical calls.”
“We will respond to the very serious calls,” he said.
Hurley said his office issued an operational bulletin Friday that offered guidance for EMS services and urged them to reassess their current response plans in light of personal protection equipment needs and to potentially reduce exposure of first responders to the coronavirus.
“Maine EMS is ready to review revised response plans that potentially account for reduced response to some calls; however, response plans that eliminate all responses will not be considered,” according to the memo.
In Livermore, Fire Chief Donald Castonguay told the Sun Journal this week that his crew members are emergency medical responders, “not EMTs,” and will respond to calls involving respiratory or coronavirus symptoms, but they “won’t do anything . . . until Northstar arrives.”
Castonguay said the Livermore Fire Department has some protective equipment — gloves and sanitizer — but lacks masks.
He said he had ordered 20 masks, some of which would be placed on the firetrucks.
If the EMRs respond to patients who have coronavirus symptoms, Hurley said, “we would not recommend them to get within 6 feet of someone to provide care, if they don’t have access to the masks.”
His agency, which also certifies EMRs, has been working to get needed personal protective equipment to all of the services that need them, he said.
“We have supplies, but there is only so much,” he said. “Everybody is abundantly aware that it’s limited.”
Although his agency hasn’t been able to provide the full amount of supplies that some services have requested, he said everyone who’s asked for protective equipment has gotten some if not all of it.
©2020 the Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)