All emergency medical responders for PACE ambulance and Oxford Fire/Rescue Department are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, leaders of those services said, while Buckfield Rescue may lose three employees who are not.

“It looks like we are keeping everyone,” Robert Hand, director of Ambulance Services at PACE in Norway, said. “That is obviously not the case everywhere, but we are doing quite well.”

PACE, which is based in Norway, employs about 45 emergency medical responders.

By the time Gov. Janet Mills announced the vaccine mandate for health care workers Aug. 12, most of PACE’s employees had already been vaccinated. The few that were not got their shots ahead of the Oct. 1 deadline, allowing the service to remain fully staffed at a time when many agencies are scrambling for help. Mills extended enforcement until Oct. 29.

In Oxford, Fire/Rescue Chief Paul Hewey confirmed that all emergency medical responders and fire personnel in his department are 100% vaccinated.

“We did not have any member leave the department for mandate-related issues,” Hewey wrote in an email Monday. “We do have per-diems on duty staffing an ambulance 24/7 as well as an Engine company during the day” from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The department is reverting back to a call force fire department at night, he said.

Hewey said one member of the Fire Department has not been vaccinated but that person does not provide direct patient contact on service calls.

One struggle for rural fire departments is competition for workers from larger municipal departments.

“Those departments are paying more with . . . full-time statuses with benefits,” Hewey wrote. “I know a few departments in the area have been having staffing issues. The issue we are all having is pulling staff from the same employee pool. With everyone’s call for service numbers increasing, we are seeing more EMS mutual aid being given and received to surrounding communities.”

Buckfield Rescue Deputy Chief Heather Bowlin said her department is likely to lose three of its 17 members over the vaccine mandate.

“Losing three is huge for us,” she said. “We’re already strapped pretty badly for people. We’ve been battling it for over a year now. This isn’t helping matters.”

But getting emergency care to patients making 911 calls is only half the battle. The route to hospital emergency departments is not quick or even guaranteed.

“We’re constantly getting text messages about diversions at different hospitals because they’re not taking certain patients,” Bowlin said. “Then we have to explain to the patient, ‘Sorry. You can’t go to the hospital you wanted to go to because they’re not taking anybody right now.’ So they go to an unfamiliar hospital, and that’s hard for them.”

Staff writer Mark LaFlamme contributed to this story.

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