N.H. fire chief joins federal complaint over $3.5M used to create county EMS
Keene Fire Chief Donald Farquhar claims officials misused pandemic relief funds to create ambulance service
By Rick Green
The Keene Sentinel
KEENE, N.H. — A longtime local ambulance service employee is alleging, along with Keene’s fire chief, that Cheshire County misused millions of dollars in federal pandemic relief funds when the county created an emergency medical services department.
Tyler Boucher , who worked for the former DiLuzio Ambulance Service in Keene , provided The Sentinel on Monday with a copy of a complaint he said he has filed with the U.S. Department of Treasury .
The complaint lists two filing dates this year, Aug. 18 and Oct. 31 . InDepthNH.org first reported the complaint on Friday.
The document lists Boucher and Keene Fire Chief Donald Farquhar as the complainants. Boucher said he now acts as an operations and education consultant for Rescue Inc. in Brattleboro.
County officials say they acted appropriately when they used $3.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act grants to create Cheshire EMS.
Initially, the county proposed buying DiLuzio Ambulance, a private company in Keene that had long-term financial problems. When that attempt failed, the county created its own ambulance service, which launched last November from a headquarters in Swanzey . DiLuzio went out of business this past May 3 .
The significant difference in Cheshire EMS’ proposed contract costs and other agencies’ has caused tension with some local fire departments, including after Westmoreland signed a one-year contract with Cheshire EMS in February rather than renew with Keene .
Farquhar has said “it would have a devastating effect on our budget” if Cheshire EMS took all of the department’s contracts.
In a text message sent to a reporter on Tuesday Farquhar said he believes the initial concept for Cheshire EMS was “likely well intended,” but he thinks that’s no longer the case.
“Along the way that good intent transitioned into something very different,” he said. “I firmly believe that their actions have damaged, not improved the [region’s] EMS ecosystems.”
When DiLuzio shuttered, Rescue Inc. stepped in to serve Swanzey and other communities that had been served by DiLuzio. But after Swanzey opted to go with the much less expensive Cheshire EMS in June, rather than sign a longer-term contract with Rescue Inc. — and several other communities followed — Rescue Inc. announced it would pull out of the region by the end of that month.
Boucher, who was deputy chief of operations with DiLuzio, said in an interview Monday that it was improper for the county to use ARPA money to compete with other ambulance providers.
He said the ARPA money was predicated on the county buying DiLuzio, which never occurred.
“The grant was potentially not used in a manner that was consistent with the application for those funds,” Boucher said. “From my understanding of the grant, anything you want to do with the money has to be specific to the project at hand.”
The complaint claims misuse of funds, saying funding for Cheshire EMS does not meet legally eligible uses of money made available to state and local governments under the American Rescue Plan Act.
However, a Treasury Department website lists “supporting the health of communities” as one of the allowable uses of these funds.
Cheshire County Administrator Chris Coates said in an interview Monday that Cheshire EMS was created to ensure quality and prompt emergency medical services at a time when the area’s largest ambulance provider, DiLuzio, was facing severe financial problems.
“The county’s priority always has been to provide for the health and safety of citizens and support our municipalities,” he said. “We only became involved because DiLuzio wanted to sell their ambulance service to us.”
He said the county stepped in because EMS service in the county was “fragile, it was stressed and it was in complete crisis.”
Coates said the county has not received a copy of the complaint and no government agency has contacted the county about it.
He said the federal money allowed the county to buy equipment and space for a county-run service — things it would need to do even if it had managed to reach a deal with DiLuzio.
County Commissioner Jack Wozmak said the county was prepared to spend $750,000 to buy DiLuzio’s assets.
“Everything we did would be the same even if we purchased them because most of their equipment wasn’t worth very much, it was old, it wasn’t in good shape,” he said.
Boucher said he made his complaint under Treasury Department procedures for allegations of misuse of government funds, including pandemic relief money.