January 23 2018

Town Meeting Approves Funds for Paramedic Training

By: Rich Hosford

Burlington Town Meeting approved a warrant article to use funds to provide town firefighters advanced medical training during its January session on Monday night.

As reported on BNEWS, the Board of Selectmen approved the placement of an article on the warrant that would appropriate $260,000 to train eight members of the Burlington Fire Department as paramedics. This is part of a multi-year push to change the department’s emergency medical status from Basic Life Support (BLS) to Advanced Life Support (ALS). Thus far, this transition has been started by hiring Firefighter/Paramedics rather than EMTs. In the past two years the department has welcomed six paramedics into its ranks with another two currently in the fire academy and another one about to enter the academy. There are also three potential vacancies that could be filled with paramedics in 2018.


The article passed by a near unanimous vote on Monday.

This training program will provide an opportunity to current members to train as paramedics, which could both further their careers and would make them eligible for a stipend that comes with the advanced training.

Town Meeting members did have some questions about the training program and the switch to ALS with most focused on the cost.


One member asked if the firefighters would be paid while “taking a year off” to train as paramedics. Chief Steve Yetman explained that nobody who entered the program would be taking a year off but instead would continue to work their shifts, with the exception of when classes bumped up against their work schedule. Further, those in the program would receive a $12,000 stipend, to be fully paid upon completion of the training, for the time spent in the classes that fell outside their normal work time.


There were also questions about of ongoing operating costs and initial start-up costs of switching to ALS.


One potential cost, new ambulances, would not be needed, Town Administrator John Petrin said. The department’s current ones are equipped to handle the switch to the higher-level medical care. There would be some initial costs for things like medication that paramedics, unlike EMTs, can administer.


As for the exact cost increase of having more paramedics in the department, much of that is yet unknown. Assistant Chief Michael Patterson explained the amount of the regular, ongoing, stipend that will be given to those who complete the training has not yet been negotiated.


Petrin said that switching from BLS to ALS could be even in terms of the budget. The reason, he explained, is that currently the town contracts ALS services to a third party and in so doing, must pay them roughly 60 percent of the fees collected for ambulance transports. This amount comes out to approximately $300,000 a year, which if the town was supplying ALS services, it would keep.


It is our plan to stay within the $300,000 amount to bring this in house,” Petrin said. “That also cover supplies and maintenance. It may not cover some initial equipment but that is not a huge cost.”


One big reason is that at the ALS level the department can provide paramedic service faster than what Armstrong can provide. The average response time from the outside service is seven minutes after the ALS provider is notified. If the Burlington Fire Department were to provide ALS service the response time in town would be within four minutes.


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