HARPSWELL — Voters next month will be asked to OK spending nearly $35,000 to expand the town’s emergency medical services to around-the-clock by the start of next year.
The Board of Selectmen last week scheduled the referendum for a special Town Meeting Dec. 7 at the Harpswell Community School. If passed, it would increase EMS coverage provided by Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick sooner than originally planned, to 24 hours a day, seven days a week, starting in January 2014 and continuing until March 2014.
The $35,000 would come from the town’s unassigned fund balance, and would supplement the $123,000 the town has already paid for partial EMS coverage from April of this year to March of next year.
Since May 2012, Mid Coast has been providing dedicated EMS coverage to the town for 12 hours a day, Monday through Friday. The town hired the hospital to cope with a shortage of EMS volunteers.
Voters at next year’s annual Town Meeting in March will be asked to approve an estimated $256,000 to continue 24/7 coverage for a full year.
Town Manager Kristi Eiane said selectmen were already planning to propose increasing EMS coverage at the annual Town Meeting for the same reasons the town began using it in the first place.
But, she said, recent news of even more EMS volunteers leaving the Orr’s and Bailey Islands Fire Department prompted selectmen to accelerate the full-time coverage.
The recommendation came from the town’s Fire and Rescue Committee, which includes fire and rescue heads from the town’s three volunteer departments.
Michael Helfgott, president of the Orr’s and Bailey Islands Fire Department, said two of the three current EMS volunteers plan to retire by the end of the year.
“The one other person is currently living out of town and trying to find a place in Harpswell,” he said. “It’s not the same as having them in town.”
While the department already has four people signed up for EMS classes that stretch from the beginning to the year to summertime, Helfgott said that will leave a major gap of coverage for two of the town’s islands.
Even then, he said, he doesn’t expect the situation to get much better.
“What we’re experiencing is part of a national trend,” Helfgott said. “It’s harder and harder for a number of reasons to get volunteers all across the country, not just for responders. Some of it is due to the economy and because of the aging population.”