Fire Department presents plan to double staffing and triple ambulance receipts
Hopedale Fire Department hopes to provide inter-facility transport services to increase its annual ambulance receipts. Source: www.hopedale-ma.gov
By Theresa Knapp
The Hopedale Fire Department has applied for a federal Staffing for Adequate Fire, Emergency Response (SAFER) grant which, if awarded, could double the department’s current staffing.
The Board of Selectmen approved the application in a meeting in March where Fire Chief Tom Daige said the grant would allow the hiring of eight additional Career Firefighters whose salaries and benefits would be covered by the grant for three years. The additional hires would provide enough staffing for four people per shift.
“This would be a win-win for us as a community, having the staffing at four firefighters per shift which greatly increases fire protection. You could do a lot more on a fire engine with four [firefighters] than two,” Daige said, adding there are currently four to six call firefighters who are in line to move to full-time.
The SAFER grant program is a federal program administered through the Department of Homeland Security under the authority of the Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974.
According to www.fema.gov, SAFER grants “provide financial assistance to help fire departments increase their cadre of frontline fireworks or to rehire firefighters that have been laid off, and to recruit and/or retain volunteer firefighters…[and] assists local fire department with staffing and deployment capabilities so they may respond to emergencies whenever they occur, assuring their communities have adequate protection from fire and fire-related hazards.”
Daige stressed the department’s main objective is to protect the residents of Hopedale, and the grant would provide for coverage 24 hours a day.
The grant could also help the town increase its ambulance receipts reserve account.
He said that, with the proposed increased staffing, Hopedale could then offer inter-facility transport to certain towns, with a planned start at Milford Hospital. Currently, two private companies provide the service from the Emergency Department where patients often wait up to three hours for an ambulance transport. The Hopedale Fire Department would be added to the hospital’s call rotation.
Inter-facility transports include transfer from one hospital to another hospital, discharge from a hospital to a skilled nursing facility, and discharge from a hospital to a patient’s home. The costs are typically covered by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance.
Based on six inter-facility transports per day, Daige estimates the service would generate approximately $847,000 per year in ambulance receipts to be added to the current yearly total of approximately $385,000 per year.
There will be startup costs for the town including equipment required to qualify as an inter-facility transport as well as an anticipated 300 percent increase to the department’s current vehicle repairs and maintenance budget.
Selectman Lou Arcudi expressed concern that, if the inter-facility transport program starts losing money, the town would have to release some of the new employees.
Selectman Brian Keyes cautioned the program would need to be profitable to keep the new-hires on the payroll.
“You have to be in the black in year four,” Keyes said. “I’d hate to have to cut people who have been working diligently for you for three years.”
Daige said the projected income from Milford Hospital’s Emergency Department is merely a starting point.
“We’re just scratching the surface,” he said. “We could take patients from other floors, too.”
Daige said the town is likely to receive the SAFER grant but if it does not, Hopedale’s participation in the inter-facility transport program is still feasible but, in that case, he would only hire four firefighters whose costs would be absorbed by the ambulance receipts generated.
Selectmen approved the grant application with the caveat that “before we accept the grant, we have a favorable recommendation from the Finance Committee to move forward.”
A determination on the grant is expected in May.