LACONIA — A company under consideration for taking over the fire department’s ambulance service would withdraw its proposal rather than compete with city firefighters for the job, its president said Wednesday.
Mark Brewster, president and chief executive officer of Brewster Ambulance Service of Weymouth, Massachusetts, said he was under the false impression that the city had already decided to privatize its ambulance service.
“Now it looks like they are putting us up against the fire department,” he said in a telephone interview. “If they are putting us up against the fire department to compete, we have zero interest in competing and will withdraw if that’s the case.
“We’ve worked very hard to build relationships with fire departments and we don't want to jeopardize that. The fire department is our friend.”
For his part, City Manager Scott Myers said this isn’t a competition so there’s no reason to think Brewster would withdraw.
Mark Brewster made his comments after receiving an email from Myers on Wednesday saying representatives of his company and the Laconia Fire Department will participate in a June 18 public hearing. Company officials are to talk about their proposal to handle the ambulance service. Fire department representatives are to talk about maintaining the status quo and continuing to run the service with firefighters.
Brewster said he’s not sure whether he or his staff would attend such a hearing.
Fire Chief Ken Erickson has spoken at length in recent weeks about how he and other firefighters greatly want to retain the service and are anxious about the idea that they may lose this responsibility.
Brewster, which operates in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, was one of three companies that responded to a request for a proposal from the city for running the ambulance service. The request was issued after Lakes Region General Hospital said it was ending its financial support for the service.
In his email, Myers said a city committee examined the three proposals.
“After reviewing the responses and performing additional due diligence, the committee felt that the proposal from Brewster Ambulance Service was responsive to the needs of the city and comprehensive in terms of detail and qualifications and that it warranted a referral to the mayor and Laconia City Council for additional review and vetting,” Myers stated.
BestCare Ambulance Services, Inc. of Gilford and CarePlus Ambulance Services of Merrimack also submitted proposals.
“The Laconia Fire Department under Chief Ken Erickson was asked to submit a proposal, outlining current service levels and anticipated expenses, to the Mayor and City Council for keeping the EMS function as a part of the Laconia Fire Department,” Myers wrote.
Mayor Ed Engler said Brewster’s statements represent “a major concern.”
“Is it fair to call this a competition between the status quo and something new? Yeah, it is,” Engler said.
He said the city issued the request for proposals as a due diligence exercise. Then, Brewster came in with a proposal so strong “it blew people away,” Engler said.
Even Fire Chief Erickson called the Brewster proposal a good one.
“But we do everything in the proposal that they offer,” he said. “They have a very comprehensive proposal, but I would argue the Laconia Fire Department does the exact same thing.”
Erickson said that even though 70 percent of emergency calls to his department are for medical runs, the city will continue to need its full complement of 40 firefighters to handle structure fires.
He said that even with the hospital’s loss of support, the city’s costs would not go up as long as it can bill users $1 million a year for ambulance services. He is confident the city can reach that threshold.
Last year, the hospital billed $825,000, but ambulance rates have gone up and the city should be able to do a better job on billing than the hospital did, Erickson said.
The city would not subsidize Brewster’s proposal. The company would derive its revenue from billing.
It would provide two full-time ambulances, each staffed with one paramedic and one advanced emergency medical technician. An additional “field supervisor intercept vehicle” will be staffed with one paramedic. It would also have a back-up ambulance staffed with one paramedic and one advanced EMT.
Its response time would be less than 6 minutes to 75 percent of incidents.
The proposal also discussed where the ambulances would be kept.
“Brewster Ambulance Service will provide garaging and living quarters strategically located in the city of Laconia,” it said. “The property will house all resources offered in this response, as well as additional interfacility ambulances that will provide additional backup support when all three “two dedicated and one backup) vehicles are already committed to emergency responses.”
City Manager Myers said the City Council will have to consider a number of questions when it weighs whether to privatize the ambulance service.
City officials will ponder how much the city could save by going to a private ambulance service and whether this savings could be achieved while maintaining good public safety.
Even if the ambulance service were privatized, city firefighters would still respond to life-threatening emergencies such as bad traffic accidents, where their expertise would be needed to, for example, extricate injured people from wreckage.