HOULTON, Maine --- An increase in the amount of work for the ambulance department has put a strain on the staff and changed the way that the town will replace its ambulances in the future.
The town dealt with some of the problems during a Town Council meeting last week and adopted a wait-and-see attitude on others.
Town Manager Doug Hazlett said late last week that the department has been taxed by additional ambulance runs. Hazlett said he believes that the state's aging population has contributed to the increase, as well as to more referrals from Houlton Regional Hospital to health care facilities in Bangor, Portland and Boston. The ambulance department gets paid for transferring patients to such hospitals and the town uses that money as revenue.
"I think that more people are going to major surgery centers in Bangor, Portland and out of state," he said. "The big problem is the strain that it has put on our ambulance employees."
Hazlett said that increased wear and tear on the town's three ambulances also has been problematic.
Councilors decided last week to purchase an ambulance after one of the town's rigs broke down. The estimated minimum cost to repair the vehicle would have been $7,000 or more, according to Milton Cone, fire chief and ambulance director. The rig had 160,000 miles on it and a history of engine problems.
Cone said that officials did not think repairing the vehicle was a "viable option" because of the potential for future engine problems.
The replacement ambulance is a 2011 GMC with 16,000 miles on it. The town will pay $165,000 over four years for the vehicle.
A new rig would have cost the town $200,000 or more, according to Hazlett.
In the past, the town has replaced its ambulances based on the number of years they have been in service. In light of the mileage each ambulance is racking up, the manager said that it would be better to replace vehicles in the fleet once they accrue a set number of miles.
Hazlett added that emergency medical technicians and paramedics have done an "outstanding job" stepping up to fill overtime slots in the wake of the increased runs. He said that the town will continue to monitor the situation before making a decision about the possibility of hiring additional employees.