Town Of To Probe Privatizing Ambulance Service

MASPEE, PA –The town will investigate the potential cost savings of hiring a private ambulance company to provide emergency services in Mashpee instead of the Mashpee Fire Rescue Department.

The move has prompted concerns among firefighters.

The Mashpee Board of Selectmen on Monday, October 31, unanimously granted Town Manager Rodney C. Collins’s request to pursue a feasibility study into the operational efficiency of the Mashpee Fire Department in an effort to investigate where spending could be reduced across the town’s operating budget.

“This is about maintaining operational efficiency and seeing where there might be cost savings,” Mr. Collins told the board. “We are in dereliction of our duties if we do not at least take a look at where this is factually driven… on all operations.”

Mr. Collins said the study could help with operational efficiency and look at potential cost savings.

The approval of the study has elicited a response from the local firefighters union and arrives only weeks after the town and fire union settled a long-standing contract dispute. On October 17, Town Meeting approved the appropriation of $404,000 to fund a firefighters union contract settlement effective July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2017. The agreement marked the end of a dispute that went through arbitration and pitted the firefighter’s union against the town.

At the October 31 meeting, a number of firefighters lined the back room of the selectmen’s meeting room during the discussion. Selectmen did not open the floor to public comment during the agenda item, and the firefighters promptly left the meeting room after approval of the town manager’s request.

“I believe the men and women, who are members of Local Union 2519, EMTs and paramedics, all provide an outstanding service to the residents and will continue to do so, regardless of what the town manager and selectmen think,” said Lieutenant Michael D. Evaul on Wednesday, November 2. Lt. Evaul is president of the local union.

“It is their option to explore anything they like, but we will be doing extensive research into how to prevent it and to keep us from losing this service,” he said. “I believe we have plenty of citizens in Mashpee and the surrounding area that have utilized our services and are very happy. We have served the public well.”

Much of the service local firefighters provide is through ambulance services. According to fire officials, emergency medical service (EMS) calls compared to fire-related calls have remained consistent at around 65 percent EMS and 35 percent fire for the last 25 years. All of the local firefighters are certified as emergency medical technicians (EMTs) or paramedics.

Mr. Collins was clear at the October 31 meeting that besides starting the feasibility study, selectmen were taking no action to hire a private company.

Selectmen had mixed reactions about the proposal, but ultimately decided it was their responsibility to the taxpayers to investigate savings. The decision follows a special meeting in early October in which selectmen heard long-range financial projections from the town’s financial planners, who informed the board that the town could be facing budget issues down the road. Dawn Thayer, Mashpee’s accountant, told the board that the town would likely need a permanent override to fund the operating budget in Fiscal Year 2022, regardless of the capital costs of a massive wastewater project.

“We need to look at the cost-effectiveness of everything we are doing,” chairman of the board Andrew R. Gottlieb said. “If we are going to go to people to ask for more money, we should be able to say we have looked at our operations and that we have looked at [improving efficiency] wherever we can [do so].”

Mr. Collins said that it is important to be accountable to the taxpayer in all facets of operational services. “This is simply being able to have the answers should the taxpayers ask,” he said.

Selectman Thomas F. O’Hara said that he had concerns about hiring a private company instead of using the fire department’s services. He agreed to the concept of the feasibility study but said he might vote against privatization down the road.

“If I’m sick or I’m having a heart attack, I would rather see a firefighter show up and revive me or take me to the hospital rather than a private ambulance,” Mr. O’Hara said.

Selectman John J. Cahalane voiced a similar response, even doubting that a private company could provide a less expensive service while matching that of the local fire department. “We already have the equipment and the trained staff, so I doubt like hell that there’s any private company that could come in and offer” what the department already offers. But he acknowledged that a study made sense.

From The Mashpee Enterprise