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Waterford ambulance agreement eases burden on firefighters

Waterford — Rather than having firefighters staff ambulances in town, Waterford Ambulance Service personnel now will be the primary responders to emergency medical situations, with help from qualified firefighters if necessary.

Effective Wednesday, the town has begun contracting WAS for its emergency medical needs, in a departure from its previous agreement with the service. The change is mainly internal, and the decision was codified by the town earlier this year. First Selectman Rob Brule, Fire Services Director Bruce Miller and WAS EMS Manager Charles Bynum promised residents that little would fundamentally change in the town’s emergency services coverage.

“In the last 10 years, Waterford Ambulance was depending on our guys to staff, along with their volunteers, the ambulance,” Miller said. “In 2010 there were 1,250 calls, and just nine years later we were up to 3,570 calls, so you can see that it tripled within a 10-year period. The ambulance service knows they need to step up. We couldn't continue to go on the way we were, having our guys out on ambulances all the time and not on firetrucks.”

Brule, Bynum and Miller all said the new system is meant to shorten response times and shore up coverage. At minimum, WAS is expected to staff one ambulance 24/7 every day of the year and another for 16 hours every day of the year, according to its one-year contract with the town. WAS can provide additional ambulances for simultaneous calls when personnel is available.

The town will provide office and administrative space in town-owned facilities, and WAS will pay $12,000 annually for town dispatch services. WAS will reimburse the town for town-supplied fuel and will continue to pay its own insurance, as its employees are not employees of the town.

“There's been a contract in place with the town for several years, but part of that contract was the ambulance service was paying the town essentially to utilize the fire staff,” Bynum said. “The new contract removes those provisions, and now we're self-staffing. Waterford Ambulance is a private, nonprofit organization.”

The 2012 contract stipulated that WAS would pay 5% of the budgeted firefighter payroll and fringe benefit expenses plus 12% of the budgeted subsidy to the five fire companies and 33% of the budgeted operating costs of the town dispatch center.

Changing how its ambulance service operates isn't the extent of the emergency services overhaul, which started in earnest when Waterford moved to a townwide fire department in 2019. Brule is pushing for a stipend program for volunteer firefighters, as well. He urged the Representative Town Meeting to take action on the issue.

“We’ve had to reschedule multiple Public Safety Committee meetings for lack of a quorum,” Brule said. “I’m hoping the chairman calls this committee in immediately. They've had the draft of the stipend program that's been worked on by attorneys for years. I just want people to be transparent, vote for this, get it done, then we can actually see how the whole system works together.”

The Committee has a meeting scheduled for July 7.

Bynum said to email him at waterfordemsmanager@outlook.com if interested in volunteering for WAS.

“I want to express my deepest gratitude and thanks to not only the first selectman and to Bruce but also the town in general and the fire departments individually for having our ambulances there, especially Oswegatchie and Cohanzie, who have taken our crews in and allowed them to station there,” Bynum said. “Thank you to the employees and the volunteers — they’ve all done a fantastic job of bobbing and weaving.”

s.spinella@theday.com

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