Hadley eyes launching its own ambulance service

  • An ambulance waits outside the Mullins Center during a concert on the UMass Amherst campus. Hadley is considering launching its own ambulance service, which it currently contracts with the Amherst Fire Department to provide. gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Friday, September 22, 2017

HADLEY — Hadley is laying the groundwork for its own ambulance service, possibly ending a long-standing relationship for medical responses with the town of Amherst.

Town Administrator David Nixon said he expects the town to issue a “request for proposal” soon, after previously notifying Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman that Hadley would solicit bids for a private or public vendor beginning July 1, 2018.

Hadley this year is paying Amherst $135,000 for the ambulances run by the Amherst Fire Department, an assessment that would rise to $140,000 next year.

The planned advertisement comes as efforts continue to move forward in making the Hadley Fire Department, at minimum, a full-time, daytime department.

A staffing plan developed by Fire Chief Michael Spanknebel calls for bringing the department to six full-time firefighters. Currently, the department has three positions, which include the chief, a lieutenant and a full-time firefighter approved by annual Town Meeting in May.

But three additional positions could be brought for funding at a special Town Meeting Oct. 5, which could trigger the need for a Proposition 2½ override.

Select Board Chairwoman Molly Keegan said figuring out the future of the ambulance service is among decisions that have to be made as the town migrates toward an improved fire department.

“Three (firefighters) is not enough to man fire trucks during the day without a call force,” Keegan said.

Nixon told the Select Board and Finance Committee last week that it would cost at least $80,000 in salary and benefits for bringing on three new full-time firefighters for a six-month period beginning Jan. 1, with another $15,000 needed in other expenses, including equipment, for these positions. If residents approve the spending next month, it would be subject to the override vote.

The need for municipal funding for the extra firefighters comes as Hadley missed out on a federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant, or SAFER grant, that Keegan said would have bought time for this transition. That grant would have provided money for four full-time firefighters.

Select Board member Donald Pipczynski told Town Meeting in August that the town didn’t get the grant because Hadley is considered too wealthy, competing with communities like Ware, which has a blighted town center, and Orange, with more than half population considered living in poverty.

In the past, Spankenebel has said that an in-house ambulance program would provide revenue and sustain added staff.

Hadley is one of the four communities, along with Leverett, Pelham and Shutesbury, served by the Amherst Fire Department, along with the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College and Hampshire College campuses.

Hadley accounts for about 1,000 ambulance calls a year, or 20 percent of the department’s work, Bockelman said.

Because the town is between Amherst and Northampton, with most patients who need transport brought to Cooley Dickinson Hospital, it is also the most convenient community for Amherst to serve, Bockelman said.

While it’s not yet known what entities will bid for the ambulance service, Keegan said she wouldn’t be surprised if Amherst expressed interest to continue serving Hadley.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.