NORTH BRANFORD - The Town Council unanimously voted this week to implement a paramedic program at a price that one councilor said was a "bargain" when it comes to saving someone's life.
"It's a basic service we need to give townspeople," Councilor Vincent Caprio said at the council meeting. "What is the cost of a person's life if a paramedic doesn't make it to a call and provide services someone needs?"
The town will now upgrade its contract with Vintech Management Service of Torrington. Vintech has been paid around $50,000 a year for emergency medical technicians to provide basic life support. Vintech will now hire paramedics to administer advanced life support.
Fire Chief William Seward has said 43 percent of residents' calls require paramedics.
"The recommendation we had made initially is what was accepted by the Town Council and approved, and it is economically based," Seward said, adding that he is grateful the town is making an investment in its emergency services.
Because the service will not start until January or February, the town will pay an additional $60,000 this year to Vintech and make a one-time purchase of $70,000 in medical equipment. For a full year, the service will cost $160,000, Finance Director Anthony Esposito said.
A program can start no sooner than next winter because the town has to apply to the state Department of Public Health to become an advanced service provider, and there will be a 45-day grace period, which is when a public hearing will be held, according to Seward.
The town also needs to renegotiate the Vintech contract, emergency equipment has to be purchased, and the program needs to be accredited with New Haven sponsor hospitals where patients are brought.
For about six months, officials have considered three options: upgrading Vintech's contract, operating an intercept car that would be stationed in town and meet EMTs at an emergency, or not starting a program at all. American Medical Response submitted a bid of $460,000 for a full year or $190,000 for a half year to run an intercept car, but officials deemed that option too expensive.
Currently, Fire Department volunteers or emergency medical technicians hired through Vintech are dispatched when someone dials 911, and paramedics from another service and town are called for advanced care. EMTs wait for a paramedic to arrive, or begin driving to a hospital and pull over when they meet up with one who stabilizes the patient.
When the new program starts, a paramedic will travel on an ambulance with an EMT, which would not allow the paramedic to leave the scene if he or she is not needed, Seward has said. If a paramedic is at an emergency and another resident needs advanced life support, a paramedic from another service will be called. Volunteers will still be needed, as well.
When Deputy Mayor Michael Doody asked what would happen if the Town Council eventually feels the budget is too tight to pay for paramedics, Seward said it can discontinue the program.