FAIR HAVEN — A 911 call may result in an ambulance from Middlebury arriving at your door, at least for the next month, according to town officials.
“We’re relying on Regional Ambulance, Poultney and Hampton (New York) has sent some people as well,” said Fair Haven Town Manager Joe Gunter. “We’re relying on mutual aid ... and we greatly appreciate the help.”
In a letter Gunter said was submitted to the Fair Haven Select Board on Tuesday, dated July 5 and signed by Willem Leenman, director of the board of the Fair Haven Rescue Squad (FHRS), Leenman said the squad was ceasing all operations for the next couple of weeks because of personnel issues.
“We regret to inform you this service has temporarily come to a halt,” Leenman wrote. “As of this writing, our July roster does not have a single day covered. We have experienced some serious personnel morale issues resulting in massive resignations.”
Leenman could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
The board, Leenman wrote, hired Amy Proctor to address insurance billing and other managerial issues that “had not been attended to,” and the insurance claims are “once again being paid, and we are in a better financial position.”
The FHRS is currently in the process of re-staffing, Leenman wrote.
The next FHRS board meeting is slated for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. Leenman advised interested citizens to reach out to their local representative to the squad if they have questions or concerns.
Fair Haven’s contact at the squad, Judy Wiskoski, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
“I first heard about it early last week,” Gunter said. “It is a big deal for the town of Fair Haven.”
Since the FHRS stopped operating, Regional Ambulance Service, along with emergency services from Benson, Hubbardton, Poultney and West Haven in Vermont, as well as Hampton and Skenesborough in New York, are among the departments that have assisted Fair Haven. Middlebury Regional EMS has responded to three incidents already this month.
“We have two crews for the towns we cover,” said Teena Betourney, executive director for Middlebury Regional EMS, which answers 3,000 annual calls in the towns of Middlebury, East Middlebury, Salisbury, Weybridge, Cornwall, Shoreham, Bridport, Whiting, New Haven and Orwell.
Middlebury provides mutual aid for Bristol, Brandon, Vergennes and now Fair Haven, Betourney said.
“We’re a full ALS service who has someone in our station 24/7,” Betourney said. “We’re the only paramedic service for Addison County.”
While they don’t experience a shortage of materials, Betourney said the turnover with rescue squads is usually extremely quick — within a few years. She said it’s common for EMTs to move on and study for a higher certification, go for their nursing degree, or take higher-paying positions.
And with 11 full-time staff members, 23 per diem staff, 17 volunteers and 42 volunteer students from Middlebury College, Betourney said they’re still always looking for people from all levels of emergency service.
Rescue services already grapple with low pay, low reimbursement and high turnover, Betourney said, and grant opportunities for equipment and upgrades are few and far between.
“We don’t make a profit,” Betourney said. “We always have to take new loans out for ambulances. On a rare occasion, we’ll get a grant or a large donation ... traditionally, it’s been this way. Vermont used to have a communications grant, and we are eligible for a FEMA grant, but it’s really hard to get.”
Jim Finger, chief executive administrator for Rutland Regional Ambulance Service, said right now all rescue squads are consistently supplying mutual aid to one another, given the limited manpower they all have.
“There’s a staffing shortage nationwide,” Finger said. “Everybody is stretched thin. You can never gauge what call volume is going to be at any time.”
Currently, Finger said, Regional Ambulance has 60 paid personnel, four to five ambulances staffed every day and three all night long.
They occasionally call in more ambulances for long-distance trips to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and other medical facilities, Finger said.
Regional Ambulance answers around 9,000 calls throughout the region every year, Finger said.