Residents call for the finest in emergency services

Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi speaks during a public hearing on ambulance services in Naugatuck Monday night.

NAUGATUCK — When it comes to ambulance service, Naugatuck deserves the best it can get, no matter the cost in dollars and cents. That’s the message a small group of Naugatuck residents delivered to the Naugatuck EMS Subcommittee at its first public hearing Monday night.

“I think it’s important for the citizens of Naugatuck to have the best level of service they can. … I would hate to see it go away for any cost,” Naugatuck resident Ricky Martin said.

The committee, led by Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi, is tasked with reviewing the way Naugatuck handles ambulance services and determining the safest, highest level of service, and most efficient way to continue those services in the future.

“Nothing is off the table in our discussion and our review,” Rossi said as she hefted a two-inch thick pile of papers she said was only the beginnings of her research into ambulance statistics and options.

The Board of Mayor and Burgesses formed the subcommittee in July after Naugatuck Ambulance President Larry Santoro informed its members that his organization could no longer afford to pay for a round-the-clock paramedic stationed at 246 Rubber Ave. He said the ambulance service would replace the borough paramedic with an intercept system, which would call a paramedic stationed in Waterbury starting in September. The paramedic would leave from Waterbury at the same time as the ambulance from Naugatuck, meeting the EMTs on the scene or in route to the hospital.

Following an outcry from citizens and borough officials, Santoro changed his position, saying he would honor the borough contract through June 30, 2012, and maintain 24-hour paramedic service.

Seven members of the public, mostly EMTs and paramedics, spoke at Monday’s hearing, advocating for better services in Naugatuck.

Thomas McKirryher, a retired firefighter, advocated for firefighters to become paramedics, claiming it would save taxpayers money, though no firm numbers were presented at the meeting.

Steve Wilcox, who has worked for Campion as an EMT and paramedic for 11 years, warned that if the borough wants to put paramedics in its fire department, it won’t happen overnight. Most paramedic schools require EMT training before accepting applicants. EMT training takes six to eight months followed by six months to a year of working as an EMT before applicants can enter a two-year paramedic program, he said.

“It’s not something you can jump right into,” he said.

Thea Randis, who worked as an EMT for Campion, Naugatuck Ambulance, and American Medical Response in New Haven for 17 years before becoming a stay-at-home mom, said that if the fire department is willing to take on EMS duties, the town should give the responsibility to it.

“When they show up, I’m comfortable,” she said.

Randis said she is not comfortable with the current level of service in the borough. No matter who is in charge of EMS services in Naugatuck, Randis said, the most important aspect of the service is a consistent, high level of training for EMS workers.

Randis said she left Naugatuck Ambulance in 2005 because she was frustrated with the lack of training and laissez-faire culture. She said the company hired unqualified candidates to add bodies to the force.

“When you know someone’s incompetent and you put them on the road, that’s negligent,” she said.

Randis and several others pointed to Seymour as a town with exemplary services.

According to Randis, people come from as far as New York to take re-certification and EMT classes in Seymour.

“Why aren’t we running training programs out of our ambulance company,” Randis asked.

Wilcox said he didn’t care whose paramedics are in town, but Naugatuck must have a dedicated paramedic.

With a commercial service like Campion, paramedics are often used for non-emergency calls, like transporting people on dialysis or taking them back to convalescent homes. If a paramedic is on a transfer when an emergency call comes in, that could delay them from intercepting an ambulance, Wilcox said.

“They should be able to cover their first call with a paramedic,” he said.

Wilcox said it is important for the subcommittee to compare Naugatuck to towns with similar call volumes.

“Our focus will be on apple-to-apple comparison,” Rossi assured him.

Joshua Claffey, who is a paramedic in Waterbury, said in New Britain, Ambulances are staffed with both paramedics and EMTs. He asked the borough to consider a similar arrangement.

Santoro attended the meeting, but did not make a public comment. Afterwards, he said he had to sit down with the committee to explore their possibilities.

The subcommittee plans to review the materials it’s researched thus far as well as arrange for an ambulance ride-along for committee members.

“It’s a lot of statistical data that this subcommittee is going to plow through,” Rossi said.