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Towns scramble as ambulance strike looms

A strike vote by paramedics, EMTs and dispatchers with American Medical Response is threatening to cut ambulance service in 13 Bay State communities, leaving emergency planners grasping to come up with contingency plans.

James Gabone, a labor relations representative for National Emergency Medical Services Association, which represents 1,000 AMR employees, said the strike is set for Monday at 7 a.m.

Gabone said after bargaining with the company since January, AMR officials told his union that a 1 percent pay cut among union members was needed to make up for the $800,000 the New England area had lost this year.

``They said that was the last and final offer and declared we were at an impasse,'' Gabone said. ``There was nothing left to bargain over. We put it out to membership for a vote and the vote came back with 92 percent against the contract. The membership authorized a strike.''

The strike call has sent emergency planners in communities that use AMR scrambling to come up with backup plans in the event AMR cannot staff its ambulances, and hoping that the union and the company will reach a last-minute deal.

In Framingham, Fire Deputy Chief John Magri said AMR is bound by contract to provide ambulance service, and may use supervisors if necessary to fill in for striking union members.

``They're reassuring us with great confidence that they're going to staff their ambulances,'' he said.

Magri said towns under threat of strike are taking nothing for granted and have been working together to arrange mutual aid coverage with other towns to fill in potential gaps. He said in Framingham, firefighters will respond to all emergency calls.

Calls to a cell phone number for Doug Moore, a spokesman for AMR's parent comany, were not returned. A local AMR general manager did not return calls last night to his home and cell phone.

Gabone said eleventh-hour federal mediation between AMR and the union is set for 1 p.m. Sunday, about 18 hours before the strike is set to begin.

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