By Dan O'Brien
The Union Leader
WEARE, N.H. — Fire officials hope a town warrant article to move money from an existing account to pay for two full-time emergency medical technicians won't meet with rejection like similar proposals in recent years.
Weare's volunteer fire department does not have EMTs who work during weekdays, which means 20 percent of the town's emergency medical calls are handled by fire departments from neighboring towns, according to officials.
The average response time in Weare is 12 minutes, but a lack of available EMTs prevented rescuers from responding to one call for 67 minutes in 2009. Waiting more than 30 minutes for help is not uncommon, fire officials said during a meeting with reporters yesterday.
Henniker Fire Chief Tom French said that, in one instance, his department was so backed up that it took 47 minutes to assist a Weare woman having heart problems.
"It was 47 minutes from the time of the phone call until we showed up," French said. "For every minute that you delay improving their heart condition, their heart is dying."
Fire chiefs from surrounding towns have told Weare officials that they will charge the town $1,000 per ambulance call unless emergency services in town are enhanced. Now, Weare is proposing in an upcoming warrant article to pay for two EMTs by shuffling dollars from its ambulance reserve account.
"The town of Weare has done a great job in handling growth with the exception of the fire department," Dunbarton Fire Chief Jonathan Wiggin said. "They built huge schools, they've expanded their highway department, they've expanded their police department, but they've done nothing with the fire department."
Population growth is the driving factor behind the increased calls, officials say. In 2000, the Census put Weare's population at about 7,700, but town officials say about 10,000 people now live in town.
The warrant article would permit the town to take $90,000 from an emergency vehicle account to pay for the two per diem EMTs.
Goffstown and Hollis pay for EMTs through their ambulance reserve accounts.
Fire officials hope the article will appeal to voters because it takes dollars from an account that already exists, rather than asking for an increase in the overall budget. Similar requests of town voters have failed in the last few years and the town is operating on a default budget.
"In the past years, we've never had a special revenue fund to pay for this," Weare fire Capt. Scott Dinsmore said. "We've always asked the town for (money) out of taxation."
The EMTs would not be full-time town employees, but rather people who already work as EMTs for other departments and can work for Weare on their days off on a rotating basis.
Another warrant article being proposed would authorize the town to accept a grant from the federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER), which would pay for the EMT positions for two years if Weare got the grant. Fire officials would still need the other warrant article to pay for the EMTs when the grant ends or if it isn't awarded.
The fire department plans to hold informational coffee hours and speak with people around town to publicize the issue.
"The biggest challenge is to educate the public," New Boston Fire Chief Dan MacDonald said.
"It's very easy to go to a voting booth and say, 'Spend money? Why?'" French said. "If we do nothing, somebody could die." Copyright 2010 Union Leader Corp.