WEST BROOKFIELD - The West Brookfield Rescue Squad's plan to maintain a second ambulance has raised an issue with selectmen of a blurred line between a private ambulance service and the town.
Selectman Barry J. Nadon Jr. said some residents here may not realize that the West Brookfield Rescue Squad is a private service that has nothing to do with the town. But because it carries the town's name, that helps to confuse matters, according to Mr. Nadon, as does the squad's use of a town-owned fire station bay to house its - up to now - lone ambulance.
Fire Chief Paul J. Lupacchino has requested use of other town property adjacent to the fire station for installation of a metal or butler building to house the second or back-up ambulance, a building that can be removed at a later date.
He said the rescue squad provides a much-needed service to the town, one that he is proud of. It does so at a minimal annual subscription cost to local residents, whereby if ambulance service is needed frequently during the year, can save individuals, families and businesses a significant amount of money.
Chief Lupacchino said the rescue squad's capabilities keep improving with an increasing number of volunteers to staff the service and increased usage by the public, which makes this the ideal time to add another ambulance.
The move to seek town land for a garage follows the recent purchase by the squad of a $230,000 ambulance, which is garaged in a portion of the fire station.
The rescue squad also will pay the $15,000 for the proposed metal garage and have it installed, according to the chief.
"My only concern with the second ambulance is if they start doing private ambulance transfers, how will it be perceived," Mr. Nadon said. "Now you're really running a private business out of a town facility."
He said to further complicate matters, Chief Lupacchino, a public employee, also is president of the private rescue squad and some of the town's firefighters are rescue squad members, again clouding the separation of what is public and what is private.
Selectman Mark A. Long said Chief Lupacchino's request to have the town provide land for construction of a garage came with very little advance notice to the board, catching the board somewhat by surprise.
"My feeling is that they need to come to us a littler bit sooner than a couple of days before the new ambulance shows up to tell us they plan on keeping the second ambulance," Mr. Long said.
Chief Lupacchino said it was in February or March when the decision was made to keep the second ambulance.
Mr. Long said this appears to be a case of the proverbial "cart before the horse." The rescue squad, according to Mr. Long, should have secured garage space or made this proposal to selectmen when it was first considered to retain the former ambulance.
The rescue squad, which Mr. Nadon acknowledged is a wonderful, money-saving service to the town, has never had a second ambulance since the privately-operated rescue squad was created in 1953. At that time ill or injured persons in town were taken to the hospital in a police cruiser or a taxi.
Mr. Nadon said the question of possible town liability over the rescue squad's close tie to the town has never come up. No one has ever questioned whether the town could get involved in a suit against the rescue squad because the squad carries the town's name and uses town property even though the squad is a private operation.
Mr. Long said if selectmen decide to provide space for a garage there are a lot of questions that must be answered. Primarily, does the town really need a second ambulance?
"We just want to be cautious in where we head," he said.
Mr. Long also asked if the second ambulance idea is eventually determined to be of little value, who pays for removing the garage and when will it be dismantled?
Mr. Nadon agreed. If selectmen approve using town land for a garage to house the second ambulance, there must be a set period of time to evaluate the second ambulance and an agreement on removing the garage when requested by the town.
The second ambulance, which is 12 years old, has 76,000 miles on it, but Mr. Long said it is estimated to have about five years of shelf-life left. He asked if it took 12 years for the rescue squad to raise the $230,000 to buy the new ambulance, how is the squad going to come up with that amount or more in just five years to buy another ambulance?
Selectman Michael H. Frew said his key concern remains the co-mingling of the private rescue squad's interests with those of the town's publicly-operated Fire Department, especially when it comes to providing town-owned land for the private squad.
There is no garage right to house the older second ambulance, because the rescue squad is allotted just one bay in a garage located next door to Town Hall and to the rear of the fire station. Garage space must be found by fall, according to Chief Lupacchino, because the ambulance must be stored in a heated facility.
The rescue squad's current single bay exits onto East Main Street (Route 9), but the front of the fire station is around the corner on nearby Cottage Street. That is where the vacant lot being eyed for the metal garage is located. It is the former Remiszewski property bought by the town to possibly expand the Fire Department, or construct a combination fire station and police station.
Chief Lupacchino said use of the one ambulance has increased markedly, with the number of ambulance calls exceeding those handled by neighboring Warren, which has a larger population than West Brookfield. In the past year, the chief said, the West Brookfield Rescue Squad has transported 580 to 620 persons, and there have been numerous instances of a second call coming in when the ambulance is out. That is not a problem because a neighboring town can cover the second call, but when West Brookfield Rescue Squad's ambulance is out for maintenance, it is much more difficult to rely on mutual aid.
Chief Lupacchino said that on average the rescue squad gets simultaneous or back-to-back ambulance calls 10 times per month.
He said this is the perfect time to try out having two ambulances.