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Potential change in West Stockbridge/Richmond shared services agreement roils emergency services responders

“It has been very frustrating not being afforded the opportunity to communicate with those who are supposed to be our town’s leadership.” -- EMS Director Austin White

West Stockbridge — With their jobs on the line, West Stockbridge firefighters addressed their Select Board on Thursday, April 11, loudly voicing concerns over the prospect of switching out their four-year shared services partnership with Richmond in favor of one with Stockbridge.

En masse, the West Stockbridge department’s personnel and Richmond officials said the two municipal groups have worked “smoothly” and without problems.

Currently, the towns of Richmond and West Stockbridge have a contract to share fire department and EMT services, with Richmond Ambulance’s two paid firefighter/EMTs available Monday through Friday, augmented by paid-per-call EMTs on evenings and weekends. The West Stockbridge Fire Department only has firefighters, with no EMTS on their roster.

According to Austin White, EMS Director for the Richmond and West Stockbridge Fire departments, Richmond Ambulance EMTs have not stated they will quit.

The meeting focused on a presentation by the town’s consultant, Jeffrey Blanchard of JB Consulting Group regarding a modeling study of various scenarios for emergency response times, including the current configuration of the town’s shared services with Richmond, a configuration of shared services with Stockbridge, and a configuration of shared services with Stockbridge and adding a hypothetical new substation on West Stockbridge Road near West Dale Road.

Following the contentious session, White weighed in on the allegations and comments made by officials.

“I just want to stress our ambulance is always available and does respond to 92 percent of calls, with the other eight percent of our calls being concurrent with others,” White wrote in an email to The Berkshire Edge.

The agency also staffs and is on standby at community events such as races, parades, and the Zucchini Festival and responds to mutual aid calls from surrounding municipalities.

According to White, the West Stockbridge Select Board hasn’t involved either him or Fire Chief Steve Traver, as both serve as heads of departments, or any fire department members in the Stockbridge shared services discussions “to truly understand how we operate.”

“It has been very frustrating not being afforded the opportunity to communicate with those who are supposed to be our town’s leadership,” White said.

Although he said the study itself was accurate in terms of the response times for both Stockbridge and West Stockbridge models that show 24-hour, seven-day-a-week paid staff, Richmond’s current operations rely on on-call EMTs to respond from home. “If the board was truly seeking a quality study, they would have asked for a model showing our ambulance staffed [at] 24/7,” White said. “The numbers shared currently make our services look worse than they are when in fact we are doing phenomenal.”

At the meeting, West Stockbridge Select Board Chair Kathleen Keresey said the department’s personnel are “aging out,” an allegation White calls, “completely untrue.” He said the fire chief is retiring this year, with the next member in age only 53 years old, 12 years below the cut-off for eligibility to serve the department.

Blanchard’s presentation included data from 2022, with the age of that information posing an issue for an audience member at the meeting but not for White who clarified that, “while the data used was from 2022, it has no bearing on the study that would skew the numbers.”

“The data merely provided locations and types of calls for service to allow the computer software to accurately map the average response time from either Richmond’s station or the Stockbridge Central Station on East Street, and the hypothetical station on Route 102,” he said.

Blanchard’s slides attributed to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Office of Emergency Medical Services a benchmark response time of 20 minutes or less for 80 percent of the calls in the local EMS service zone. White clarified the benchmark is set by the communities that are a part of the Southern Regional Emergency Planning Commission, with the regions creating the service zone plans and submitting their standards to the state.


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