EMT shortage in Sandisfield prompts call for public safety officer

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SANDISFIELD — If you live in Sandisfield and need an ambulance during the day, you might have to wait for one from another town.

That's because state law requires two emergency medical technicians for medical calls where an ambulance is used. If not, the ambulance can't respond. And if there are too many nonresponses, the town risks loosing its ambulance certification.

The town is now facing this danger. During the day, there is only one EMT who can be counted on — that's the town's fire chief, Ralph Morrison.

Morrison said some of his volunteers have retired from EMT work. Others have day jobs in another town, or jobs that get busier in the summer.

"It pretty much leaves me high and dry," he said.

The problem goes for neighboring Tolland, too, since it uses Sandisfield's ambulance service.

Ambulance calls are just one reason why town officials will ask voters at the May 18 Annual Town Meeting for $56,000 to pay for a full-time public safety officer who would be on call from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

"We're in the same boat as all towns," said Select Board member George Riley. "Most volunteers work during the day and work out of town."

Morrison, Riley explained, has a business in town, so he is available. But sometimes he's the only one.

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Morrison said the officer would also cover police and fire calls, and that this was the most economical path, and crucial for safety.

Riley said that, currently, the first backup ambulance is from Otis; the second is the Southern Berkshire Volunteer Ambulance Squad.

Running an ambulance outfit isn't cheap.

Otis' costs that town $225,000 per year. When Sandisfield officials looked into contracting with County Ambulance in Pittsfield, they found a staggering price tag: $350,000 per year.

"We're trying to avoid that kind of scenario," Riley said.

Morrison said the town will ask Tolland to chip in for Sandisfield's ambulance service. For some reason, he added, this has happened only once in his 40 years as fire chief. Some Sandisfield taxpayers have complained about this.

But Morrison thinks it's worth every penny, though he'll be pinched, too, since he owns land in Tolland as well.

"I'm a taxpayer in both towns, so how do you think I feel?"

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_bellow and 413-329-6871.


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