First election in years yields new president of North Stonington ambulance

North Stonington — A new president, two new officers and a new trustee all were elected in a short meeting held by the North Stonington Ambulance Association on Tuesday, the first shake-up of the company's leadership in years.

Three candidates, all of whom are members of both the ambulance association and the North Stonington Volunteer Fire Company, unanimously were elected to fill three long-vacant positions in the ambulance company leadership.

A fourth candidate, also a member of both the ambulance association and fire company, was elected to replace longtime President Brian Elias, who had held that position since 2001 but chose to not seek re-election.

The ambulance company also has been under pressure from the Board of Selectmen to improve its performance after records from Groton Emergency Dispatch Center, which handles North Stonington calls, showed that many calls had to be diverted to mutual aid because the town's ambulance company didn't have enough staff to respond.

The Office of the State Attorney General briefly was involved when ambulance association volunteers Zachary Brayman and Richard Kerlin brought it to the office's attention that elections hadn't been held in years. Elias said there had been little interest in elections until now, and all parties had agreed that one would be held in June.

Kerlin was elected to the presidency, while Ryan Burdick was elected vice president of administration. The secretary position was filled by Cody Morgan and Brayman was elected as one of the company's trustees.

After the meeting, Elias said he had chosen to stay on as president for so long because no one in the past had been interested in the position. He said he felt that now was the right time to step aside.

"I have had other things that have deserved the attention instead," he said in an interview. "I really held on because no one else wanted it ... it's excellent to hand it over to a group of people that have a tremendous amount of energy."

Because a board meeting hasn't been held in several years, and the company constitution requires that voting members attend meetings regularly, Elias allowed anyone who has helped out the company to vote for new officers.

Despite the new officers, there were still five vacant positions: vice president of operations, captain, treasurer and two trustee slots.

Kerlin said that he and the other officers plan to fill those positions in the coming months and have their first official meeting soon.

Elias said the high missed call rate is something that can happen for rural ambulance companies with a per-diem payment structure. The per-diem system, in which employees work 12-hour shifts as available and don't get any benefits, made it difficult to retain and schedule staffers, who treated it as a second or third job, he said.

He brought on five more per-diem staffers last fall and requested a part-time pay structure in his budget for the upcoming fiscal year. But the selectmen chose to keep funding at its current levels instead, and First Selectman Shawn Murphy sought information from American Ambulance about its prices if that company were to take over the town's service area.

In the meantime, the missed first call rate has bounced between 11 percent and 23 percent in the last five months, according to the latest information that Murphy obtained from Groton dispatch.

Elias said he believes that some form of full-time staffing in addition to volunteers, possibly staff that can perform both EMT and firefighting roles, is the best solution to the ambulance company's performance issues.

"I don't see a long-term solution to staffing that doesn't include full-time," he said.

The new officers said they would first focus on ways to increase volunteer membership and would review old volunteer applications, as well as possibly adding more per-diem staff. In the long term, they also anticipate exploring changes to the governance structure that would prevent the company from operating for so many years outside its own bylaws.

"Any option to assist the Town of North Stonington is on the table," Brayman said. "We really want to absorb what the town needs."

n.lynch@theday.com

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