CAPE ELIZABETH — The town’s Fire-Rescue department is losing night-time volunteers and is looking to the town for money to hire overnight staff.
Fire-Rescue Chief Peter Gleeson and Emergency Medical Services Division Chief Eric Wellman on Monday asked the Town Council to add almost $48,700 to the annual budget for round-the-clock per-diem coverage. They also asked for $25,000 from the town’s capital improvements fund to build sleeping quarters at the station.
The Town Council will take up the issue at its Nov. 4 meeting. It will vote on whether to give the department about $34,800 now, instead of waiting until the new fiscal year to give it the full amount.
“If your rescue department is coming to you saying they need more coverage, you don’t wait seven months to do that,” Town Manager Mike McGovern said.
The department uses a per-diem staffing program, which ensures a paramedic is available from 6 a.m.-10 p.m. each day. It currently has 14 per-diem staff, most from Cape Elizabeth, while others live in several surrounding towns.
Overnight calls rely on on-call volunteer responders who rotate shifts. They are paid a stipend of $10 to be on-call and receive an hourly wage, based on their licensing, if they go out on a call.
Gleeson’s plan is to have two night-time personnel – a paramedic and emergency medical technician – stay at the station from 10 p.m.-6 a.m. The paramedic would be paid an hourly wage and the EMT would get a $50 stipend, plus an hourly wage per call.
In the past three months, the department has lost 13 per-diem staffers. Gleeson said many said the volunteer work conflicted with their day jobs, or that they left because of family commitments.
The new system would not require new hires. The department would use the same per-diem staffers, but the schedule would be more concrete, the pay would be better, and they would stay at the fire station, he said.
Gleeson said it’s important to have responders on the scene quickly at night because night-time calls, of which there are about 135 a year, are usually very serious. While the response time during the day is 5 or 6 minutes, it can be between 14 to 20 minutes at night because volunteers are coming from their homes.
“It’s critical that we get the unit there in a more timely manner,” Gleeson said.
Gleeson said the volunteers have to go through a lot of training. To be an EMT, there is a 160 hour class, and to be a paramedic, people need to participate in a two-year program. Gleeson said that’s a lot of work for a volunteer and that this program would more fairly compensate them.
Gleeson said there have been volunteer shortages in other parts of the state, too, and that other towns have their firefighters take EMS calls. Despite this, he said Cape Elizabeth is the only town in the greater Portland area that doesn’t have a 24/7 ambulance staff.
Gleeson said this hasn’t caused any problems yet, but that “the trend is going that way.”
“If we ignore this, we could get in a situation where something bad happens,” he said.
Cape Elizabeth Fire-Rescue Chief Peter Gleeson wants to hire two employees to work the night shift.