AUBURN — A last minute effort to create a citizens’ board to oversee emergency medical response failed  as councilors approved a medical transport deal with United Ambulance.

Councilors approved the agreement by a 6-1 vote, with Councilor Ron Potvin voting against it. It calls for pulling Rescue 1, the city’s emergency medical response vehicle, out of service in favor of the contract with the private ambulance company.

Potvin said he feared the change would lead to increased response times for medical emergencies. Potvin said he suffered a heart attack in 1998 and later lost a brother to a heart attack. The difference was emergency response. Emergency crews were able to transport Potvin within 11 minutes after his heart attack: It took 25 minutes for his brother, he said.

Potvin said he favored expanding the city’s medical response, letting Auburn’s own employees transport patients. That would let the city charge insurance for transportation charges, generating revenue.

Councilors investigated that idea last year, but ultimately decided to cut Rescue 1 and reallocate the associated staff to trim the budget.

Potvin said Monday he knew he couldn’t change the councilor’s votes.

“So I’d ask for this body to create a seven-member citizens’ commission to review this operation and ensure quality and safety,” Potvin said. “I think this is a dramatic enough change, our citizens have to be involved.”

His plan didn’t get councilor support, however. 

“Every time we have to do something dramatic, something that might be a bit hard for people to swallow, we try to create another level of government,” Ward 5 Councilor Ray Berube said. “I think it’s our job to make a decision here, not to complicate things forever.”

The agreement requires United to have one ambulance on hand that’s
able to respond anywhere within city limits within 11 minutes. It also
requires the company to respond to all medical emergency calls
requiring lights and sirens within eight minutes 90 percent of the
time. The company must respond to non-emergency calls within 11 minutes
90 percent of the time.

That bothered some firefighters, who complained the change will mean service reductions. Firefighter John Gravel said he favors expanding the department’s rescue services.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” Gravel said. “Why would you turn down something that generated revenues without cutting services? Instead, we’re going to cut services.”

The change is expected to save the city an estimated $115,000 per
year, including fuel costs for the truck and overtime reductions by
putting the rescue staff to work in other areas.

The city needs to
advertise the change for 30 days, meaning that United could take over city ambulance service
early in November.

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