AL BARBER | HINESBURG FIRE CHIEF | SEPTEMBER 26, 2019
Today we know that June 30, 2020 we will no longer have the free ambulance transport service from St. Mike’s which we have enjoyed for nearly fifty years.
For many years, unless an ambulance was needed for you personally, few realized that Hinesburg did not have our own. As people realized that this was the case, the question that has been posed over and over to me, the fire department members, the town administrator and selectboard members has been “Why not?” I think there was a simple answer: why pay taxes for the service when we can get it for free. The time has come when we need to buck up and face a few harsh realities, nothing is free any more. Moreover, we need to have control over the service we get for the money we spend, but it’s not just about money, it’s about saving people’s lives.
It’s known that for stroke and heart attack victims, minutes and even seconds can have a huge effect on the outcome, it can make the difference literally of life or death. The fire department has had a first response branch since 1999; we’ve been recognized many times for our organization, used as a model for other first response squads, and served the community well, but we have reached our capacity for the service we can provide. The fire department, like the community, needs to evolve, and the next level of service is an ambulance. Currently our average response time, as a 100% volunteer service, is 7 minutes for emergency medical service calls. Once on scene, we wait an average of 22 minutes for an ambulance to arrive, which includes all of the other ambulance services around us. The only way to shorten this time is to respond from our station to the scene with our own ambulance. We continually hear the comment “We aren’t ready for an ambulance” or “I don’t think we’re ready for an ambulance.” But if you’re the one waiting for an ambulance, you know we are overdue for one. On our Med 100 truck, we have all the same equipment that is on an ambulance except a way to transport someone to the hospital.
While the department membership is strong for a volunteer department, there are usually only two of us available during the day and typically only one of us is EMS certified, and we are both retirees. As a department we have for several years told the selectboard and the community that we will have to be hiring daytime staff, that time is 2020-2021, which is next year. We have a great opportunity now to take advantage of this by not only having one daytime staff member, but two and an ambulance with revenue to help offset much of the cost. Is there a lot involved; yes. Is it necessary; yes. But is it manageable? We have the plans, the skills and the need, it’s just a matter of the selectboard having confidence in the fire department and the community coming together to accomplish the task before us.
We will not be able to have an ambulance service of our own by June 30, 2020 because of the delays we’ve encountered, so we will need interim coverage from other services around us. There are many tasks ahead of us, but in the end, we will be in a much better place, a much better prepared community ready to fulfill the needs of our citizens; unfortunately, it won’t be free as in the past.