Ruling favors Naugatuck Ambulance

NAUGATUCK — A Superior Court judge has ruled the borough is responsible for paying a third-party service that dispatches ambulances and provides medical instruction over the phone during emergencies.

The Naugatuck Ambulance Association asked Waterbury Superior Court for a ruling to determine who was responsible for paying service fees to Northwest Public Safety of Prospect because state statute was not clear. A ruling handed down last month by Judge Barbara Brazzel-Massaro states the municipality is responsible.

“It’s a relatively clear-cut decision and it affirms our position,” said attorney Dominick Thomas, who represents the ambulance association.

This is the latest development in an ongoing drama between the borough and the ambulance association. The two sides have been at odds since 2012 when borough officials said they learned the association was planning to take away a paramedic “fly car” to respond to emergencies during the day.

The borough went out to bid for a new ambulance association that year and found other vendors who claimed they were willing to pay lower rates, at least initially. But the nonprofit Naugatuck Ambulance Association has remained the emergency medical services provider because it has Primary Service Area Responder, or PSAR, designation from the state. Officials say that designation makes it nearly impossible for a municipality to remove the ambulance provider and was intended to remove politics from the decision of determining who would run ambulance services in municipalities.

Thomas said the association is still performing all of its duties for the community despite what he called “bogus claims” of inadequate service by borough officials to the state Office of Emergency Medical Services. The state agency opened an investigation and later determined there was no basis to reprimand or remove Naugatuck Ambulance as the PSAR holder for Naugatuck. In 2012, however, the borough stopped giving the association an annual stipend. Previously, the borough paid Naugatuck Ambulance about $140,000 a year.

Thomas said the association remains committed to working out ongoing issues with the borough, but will likely seek reimbursement through the court system of back payments it made to Northwest Public Safety unless the borough decides to hand over the money through a settlement. In the memorandum of decision, Naugatuck Ambulance claims it has paid Northwest Public Safety $369,829 since it stopped receiving an allocation from the borough in 2012.

The last payment it made was for $69,519 in the first half of 2012. The borough had to pay the second half of $39,717 or it would have lost the services from the dispatcher that state law requires it to provide.

Mayor Robert Mezzo said the borough will likely appeal the decision. He referred all questions to borough attorneys, who could not be reached for comment.