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Mass. Ambulance Panel Considers In-House Service

CHELMSFORD, Mass. — Which is paramount — public safety or beefing up town coffers?

That question was repeatedly tossed around the table last night as nine members gathered for the first public meeting of the Chelmsford (Mass.) Ambulance Committee.

If there isn t a problem with the town s current service provider, Trinity Ambulance Inc., then why now? asked committee member John Demers.

Demers said it s a question he still hasn t received an answer to.

Ambulance Committee Chairman John Thibault reminded members of the $100,000 deficit that led to three of the town s five fire stations closing on a rotating basis over the summer months. The dilemma prompted Town Manager Paul Cohen s proposal to switch the town s ambulance service from 14-year contractor Trinity to a Fire Department-run operation.

Cohen initially presented a plan for an in-house ambulance service that had the Fire Department operating two ambulances and outsourcing mutual aid from neighboring towns. He later changed the proposal to ease residents concerns about mutual-aid response times, instead recommending one Fire Department-run ambulance, with a private ambulance company close to Chelmsford as back-up.

Cohen said that plan would generate an extra $218,000 for the town.

As the Ambulance Committee mulls the pros and cons of an in-house ambulance service, committee member Steven Normandin said one thing is clear.

No one wants to vote against public safety so we can save a couple of dollars, Normandin said.

The committee aims to research ambulance service in about 10 communities similar in size and population to Chelmsford, as well as invite several guest speakers, including Cohen, Trinity representatives and Fire Chief Jack Parow, to talk about the issue.

Resident Paul Rigazio asked the committee to take a good look at how much it would cost Chelmsford to hire additional firefighters to run an ambulance service.

What happens in 10 to 20 years when we have to carry over heath-care and pension benefits? Rigazio wondered.

With each of the nine members bringing different concerns to the table, committee member Dan Burke wondered if the weeks of research would end in a consensus or a majority vote, to which Thibault replied, What do you think?

Committee member Deirdre Connolly said retaining stellar ambulance service and increasing revenue would be the best of both worlds.

With a challenge that no other study seemed to answer after 12 years of research, Thibault made a prediction for the weeks ahead.

We certainly have our work cut out for us, he said.