Mass. FDs plan to work together to provide ALS coverage

Fire agencies in Lancaster and Bolton will collaborate to provide advanced life support services after their previous ALS provider abruptly pulled out


Sara Arnold
Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass.

LANCASTER, Mass. — After the sudden loss of advanced life support (ALS) ambulance coverage in Lancaster and Bolton, the towns have decided to work together to provide their own ALS service. They presented their plan to the Board of Selectmen on Monday, Dec. 16.

As reported in The Item last week, Wood's Ambulance abruptly pulled out of Lancaster and Bolton by fax with less than 48 hours notice, leaving both towns scrambling for ALS coverage. They currently only have EMTs trained in basic life support (BLS); ALS paramedics can take medical action that BLS cannot, such as intubation.

The Lancaster Fire, Rescue & EMS Department and the Bolton Fire Department have proposed a plan to work together to provide advanced life support services to both towns. The departments were left searching for new ALS services after their previous provider abruptly pulled out.
The Lancaster Fire, Rescue & EMS Department and the Bolton Fire Department have proposed a plan to work together to provide advanced life support services to both towns. The departments were left searching for new ALS services after their previous provider abruptly pulled out. (Photo/Lancaster MA Fire, Rescue & EMS Department)

For Lancaster, the loss of Wood's Ambulance meant temporarily reverting to having ALS provided entirely by Sterling, which had recently only covered a portion of Lancaster relative to its distance from Sterling, with Wood's covering the rest.

Fire Chief Mike Hanson reassured Lancastrians that the town will continue to have both BLS and ALS coverage.

Hanson said it is normal to have no contracts for regional ALS services, just billing agreements. With both Wood's Ambulance and Sterling, the agreement has been a 50/50 split, with Lancaster doing the billing. In the last fiscal year, $251,250.47 was paid to Lancaster for ambulance services and deposited into the town's general fund.

Most towns are moving away from using private ambulance companies, he explained, preferring to bring the services in-house with joint fire and EMS. Hanson said it was ultimately much more expensive to utilize private companies, which set their own rates, whereas the Board of Selectmen sets the rates for the town.

Hanson said he'd had discussions with private company VitalEMS about its ALS services. VitalEMS said it would cost $700,000 a year to staff an ALS "fly car" (a vehicle with ALS paramedics that follows behind or intercepts a BLS ambulance) and $1 million for them to provide an ALS ambulance.

Instead of hiring VitalEMS or another private service, Lancaster and Bolton are joining together to provide 12 hours of coverage per day, 365 days a year.

Bolton Fire Chief Jeffrey Legendre, who attended the meeting, said it will be run out of the Bolton Public Safety Building on Wattaquadock Hill Road. Most locations in the towns are within the target area of seven miles from there.

Some local members of the community who are already trained in ALS have expressed interest in joining the department. The fire chiefs will also be getting more EMTs trained as ALS paramedics.

According to Legendre, the rough estimate cost for 12-hour coverage would be $54,000 annually for equipment with use of existing emergency vehicles; $6,000 for supplies such as IVs and medication; and $173,000 for ALS paramedics making $25 an hour. For 24-hour coverage, the amount for ALS paramedics would increase to $281,000.

Sterling will continue to provide ALS services for the other 12 hours of the day, at least until ALS is fully staffed in Lancaster and Bolton, and afterward as mutual aid.

Legendre said it was "ambitious to have (the plan) done by July 1," but that it was the goal.

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©2019 Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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