SOUTHWICK – Since July 1 the Southwick Fire Department has completed 30 Advanced Life Support runs.
The SFD operates at the ALS level during daytime hours, said Fire Chief Russ Anderson, and it’s already saving the town money, time and most importantly, providing faster medical support to those who need it.
“We have saved about $10,000 already,” said Anderson.
The savings comes mainly from not having to pay fees to neighboring communities – such as Westfield and Agawam – that provide ALS services to the town.
“It costs us about $275 every time Westfield has to come here,” Anderson said.
Southwick has been working toward ALS operations for about five years. The town’s population has grown, and Anderson said they were getting more and more calls for ALS level service.
“The problem is that Agawam and Westfield were also getting more calls, so sometimes we would call them, and no one was available because they were assisting their own residents,” said Anderson.
When a call for an emergency comes in, Anderson said a dispatcher determines whether or not ALS is necessary based on a series of questions. Before having its own ALS operations, Southwick EMTS would arrive on scene and call for ALS interception, which usually meant that a Westfield or Agawam ambulance was also dispatched and two ambulances – one from Southwick and one from the ALS responder — were used for the call. Southwick was paying for its own ambulance plus an ALS ambulance.
Anderson said for the next three to six months the SPD is required to have two paramedics and a Basic EMT on every ALS call while the service is still new. After that, one paramedic and one EMT will respond, which Anderson said will help cut costs and create better staffing flow.
“Staffing will be a challenge for a little while,” he said.
The SFD has three career paramedics and two per diem paramedics staffing the ambulance from 6 a.m. – 6 p.m. Anderson hopes the department will receive a state grant that will allow him to hire three more fulltime paramedics. The three-year grant would pay 65 percent of the salary for the three positions for the first two years, then 35 percent the third year. Anderson said Southwick has three years to become a fulltime ALS department.
“We need to be operating at the ALS level 24/7, 365 days a year,” he said.
Anderson said so far, operating at the ALS level has been a great experience.
“This was a priority of the Finance Committee and Select Board to provide this service to residents,” he said. “I’m appreciative of the support from the town so that we can increase the quality of life here.”
Anderson commended Deputy Chief Rich Stefanowicz for his role in bringing ALS to Southwick.
“He made this happen and got it off the ground,” said Anderson. “He has worked hard.”
Hope E. Tremblay can be reached at [email protected]