Mass. city mayor proposes ambulance service run by fire department

Mayor Donna Holaday presented the city's desire to operate its own ambulance service staffed by firefighters already trained as EMTs


Rogers Dave
The Daily News of Newburyport, Mass.

NEWBURYPORT, Mass. — Updates on creating a locally run ambulance service, building a new West End fire station and relocating Newburyport Youth Services were among the topics covered by Mayor Donna Holaday during her appearance on Local Pulse, the internet radio program.

Broadcast from The Daily News of Newburyport office each Saturday, Local Pulse is hosted by Joe DiBiase and produced by Greg Ogden.

The city now contracts with Atlantic Ambulance Service, a subdivision of Cataldo Ambulance Service, for ambulance runs, and pays $2.16 million a year. (Photo/Newburyport Fire Department)
The city now contracts with Atlantic Ambulance Service, a subdivision of Cataldo Ambulance Service, for ambulance runs, and pays $2.16 million a year. (Photo/Newburyport Fire Department)

Holaday presented a quick overview of the city's desire to operate its own ambulance service staffed by local firefighters already trained as emergency medical technicians.

The plan, which Holaday says could generate more than $500,000 in revenue yearly, has the backing of Newburyport Fire Chief Christopher LeClaire.

"He really thinks this is the way to go," Holaday said.

The city now contracts with Atlantic Ambulance Service, a subdivision of Cataldo Ambulance Service, for ambulance runs, and pays $2.16 million a year — 60 percent of the Fire Department's annual budget.

In a recently released report, creating an in-house ambulance service would cost upward of $400,000 when factoring in training, buying ambulances and supplies and hiring eight more firefighters. Some of that cost could be absorbed should the city be awarded a Federal Emergency Management Agency staffing grant.

The grant would cover 75 percent of salaries for the first year for the mandatory eight additional firefighters that would need to be hired. The percentage drops over the next few years of the grant but Holaday said by that time, the program would be generating enough revenue to cover expenses.

A big hurdle for the city would be to come to an agreement with local firefighters whose contracts run out June 30. Since they would be tasked to perform more duties, salary increases would follow.

"This is a significant change of conditions for firefighters," Holaday said.

Holaday was then asked about plans to replace the decaying West End fire station on Storey Avenue. She said the city has has received six conceptual design proposals and will soon whittle those down until one is awarded.

"We need to decide if we're going up or going out, do we need more land? So those are decisions that need to be made there," Holaday said, adding that the current structure is so out of date, that firefighters are basically sitting in a garage filled with diesel fumes.

In terms of moving Newburyport Youth Services from the former Brown Elementary School to where the city's Emergency Management Agency building is located, Holaday said some progress is being made.

According to a Holaday, a vote by what she called the Armory Commission will take place soon to decide whether the National Guard-owned land can be granted to the city as surplus.

Holaday said moving NYS to the Low Street site would bring it closer to multiple schools, provide more parking and be equidistant to more residents. It would also allow the city to convert the Brown School building into affordable housing. The surrounding playground would be converted into a city park.

"It doesn't make sense anymore" to keep NYS at the Brown School, Holaday said.

NYS has operated out of the former Brown Elementary School building since 2015, where it established the Newburyport Recreation Center on the first floor of the otherwise empty building. The city's emergency management agency would move to Department of Public Services headquarters on Perry Way.

Quickly, Holaday reminded residents of Monday's community meeting regarding upcoming Tobin Bridge paving. Paving on both sides of the Route 1 bridge, which connects Boston to Chelsea, is expected to take place during already heavy traffic times.

"This is going to be awful, absolutely awful," Holaday said, regarding expected traffic headaches.

The meeting, taking place at City Hall from 6 to 8 p.m., will feature appearances from Massachusetts Department of Transportation staff who will provide an overview of the project and its possible traffic impact.

Rebecca Wish Esche, co-founder of Conversation Cafes of Greater Newburyport, opened the show to discuss how the group promotes civil discourse on hot button topics featuring views from different sides.

"Because a lot of us have very strong opinions about things in the world, things in our city, we wanted people to come —men and women — and be able to talk about their options without judgment in a peaceful environment," Esche said.

Esche said the cafes aren't exactly a conversation. Instead, participants typically gather together at the Newburyport Senior Community Center, watch a video about an important topic, and then move into smaller groups. Each person in those groups then gets a minute to offer their opinion.

In essence, it's less of a venting session and more of a listening session.

The next cafe takes place Wednesday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Senior Community Center, 331 High Street. This month’s topic: “Has Political Correctness Gone Too Far: The Assumptions We Make."

Local Pulse airs live from 9 to 10 a.m. each Saturday. Shows are available for listening or downloads at any time from newburyportnews.com/LocalPulse

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©2019 The Daily News of Newburyport (Newburyport, Mass.)

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