CHARLEMONT — A bill to reduce the number of emergency medical technicians required to respond to rural ambulance calls did not pass the state Senate, because of concerns raised by the state Department of Public Health lawyers on the last day of the legislative session, according to former Sen. Benjamin Downing’s office.
The failure of Senate Bill No. 2294 is a setback for Charlemont, where finding enough volunteer ambulance help with required certification has been a challenge — especially on weekdays, when many part-time ambulance volunteers work out of town.
The ambulance service currently serves Charlemont and its growing recreation industry and Hawlemont, which has a growing elderly population.
“There are a lot of medical calls,” says Hawley Selectman Hussain Hamdan. “As a resident and a first responder, I can tell you that, in all cases, some kind of response by an ambulance is better than a response by a hearse,” he said.
“The EMT bill actually started in 2011,” said state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru. “Sen. Downing and I filed it for Hinsdale. It got stuck on the Senate side, and we just couldn’t get it over the finish line. … I will refile that bill in the next two weeks, keep fighting for it.”
Current state law requires that a volunteer ambulance service staff each ambulance with at least two EMTs. However, the town has had a difficult time finding enough EMTs to respond. For now, under an “action plan” to reorganize its ambulance service, Charlemont has a waiver that allows the ambulance service to answer emergency calls with a first-responder to drive the ambulance and an EMT to attend to the patient — which is what this rural ambulance bill called for.
“An Act Relative to Volunteer Ambulance Service” would have allowed towns with populations of 3,000 or less, or fewer residents than 500 per square mile, to respond to calls with one EMT and a first-responder ambulance driver.
Charlemont Selectmen’s Chairwoman Beth Bandy said the town is not required to provide an ambulance service, but in a meeting years ago, residents overwhelmingly wanted to continue the ambulance service.
“The concern has been that having two EMTs go out is safer than one EMT and a first-responder,” she said. “While that may be the case, it is more dangerous to have no one responding.”
Bandy said it’s difficult for a town the size of Charlemont “to keep people with all that training” as part-time volunteer ambulance workers. Another Charlemont-driven bill that was not enacted by the Senate, a 3 percent recreation tax, would have been used to help support the town’s ambulance service.
It was unclear whether the town would try again to get the bill through the new session of the Legislature.