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West Hartford Fire Department Will Take Over Paramedic Role

Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

The West Hartford Town Council voted Tuesday night to bring paramedic services in house.

Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

An enhancement of the West Hartford Fire Department’s role that has been discussed for many years will take place as of January 2016, following the Town Council’s unanimous approval Tuesday night of a resolution to transfer paramedic services from American Medical Response (AMR) to the department.

The change will not only save the town money, but according to Fire Chief Gary Allyn should increase responsiveness since there will initially be paramedics stationed at four of West Hartford’s five fire houses at all times, and ultimately full-time coverage at all five stations.

The current contract with AMR provides for two paramedics on duty at all times during weekdays (between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.) and one on duty at all other times. The paramedics are stationed in the center of town at the police station. AMR is paid $315,000 in the current fiscal year for providing this service and that cost is estimated to increase to $326,000 for the next fiscal year.

“We’ve been working on this project for a lot of years to get to where we are. It’s not that AMR has done anything wrong; it’s just an opportunity for us to use our staff to provide that service out of our five fire stations. It will keep our staff a little busier but we have that ability. We will better serve our residents,” Allyn told Council members.

As a first responder to all medical calls, the West Hartford Fire Department is already at the scene in a situation that requires paramedic/advanced life support (ALS). Rather than relying on AMR personnel to provide that support, paramedic-certified West Hartford firefighters will handle it, and when needed will continue to provide ALS en route to the hospital in an ambulance.

AMR will continue to provide transport service with its ambulances. That is a separate agreement that is billed directly to insurance providers or patients and not part of the town budget. Support provided by West Hartford firefighter-paramedics who accompany patients in an ambulance will also be paid for by those parties and is estimated to generate $188,000 in revenue in the first six months.

Director of Financial Services Peter Privitera said that the initial capital outlay for the program is $466,600, and $200,340 will be paid for by a grant that the department has received. The remainder of the cost will be paid out of the Capital Non-Recurring Expenditure fund, to which the Council just appropriated $1,900,000 in surplus funds.

According to Privitera, the program’s operating costs are $308,000 for the six months remaining in the fiscal year, but $94,000 of that is initial overtime costs to obtain certification and continuing education for the paramedics. In addition, the operating costs include nearly $100,000 as a “placeholder” for salary and benefits of a full-time supervisor who may not be needed, Privitera said.

Overall, net savings to the Town on the operations side will be $37,490 for the remainder of FY16, Privitera said. “It will be more next year, $270,000 or possibly more since that number includes the full-time staff member as well,” Privitera said.

As positions within the department have opened up, 17 firefighter-paramedics have already been hired. As personnel are replaced through normal attrition, an additional three will firefighter-paramedics will be added.

“One of the biggest things that’s been going on in business and government is outsourcing. One of the more quieter things you haven’t heard about is insourcing – service might be delivered more efficiently here at home. This is one of them. We’ve looked at this for a long time,” said Harry Captain who heads the Council’s public safety committee.

“To me the priority is safety,” said Deputy Mayor Shari Cantor. She received assurance from Chief Allyn, a longtime paramedic himself, that safety would continue to be paramount and would not be compromised.

Minority Leader Denise Hall, who along with other Council members voted in favor of the resolution, said she would not have considered this move several years ago when the Town and the firefighters’ union were engaged in contentious negotiations. “I think that the steps that were taken in the last contract negotiation, for me, brought me to the table to say I’m willing to listen to this which I wouldn’t have before. I have a tremendous amount of faith in Chief Allyn, [Town Manager] Ron [Van Winkle] and Pete [Privitera] in their abilty to analyze this.”

Approximately 60 percent of fire department calls are now medical, and this change allows for West Hartford firefighters to best respond. “This is about modernizing us. It brings us to where we should be,” Mayor Scott Slifka said.

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