DUMMERSTON — By now, Brattleboro residents have heard the town's intent to sign a contract with for-profit Golden Cross ambulance service and discontinue its 56-year annual contract with nonprofit Rescue Inc.
Why would the Selectboard make such a decision on its own, and why has this not been a topic of public discussion?
Every September, Rescue holds a consortium for the towns, a meeting that also airs on BCTV. During the 2021 meeting, then-Town Manager Peter Elwell assured the Rescue staff, volunteers, and board members - including representatives from the nonprofit's 15-town coverage area - that the Brattleboro Fire Department would not be taking over the ambulance service for the town.
On Feb. 9 of this year, the new town manager, Yoshi Manale, arranged a meeting with Rescue Chief of Operations Drew Hazelton, also attended by Debra Miller Chapman, the Selectboard's appointed trustee on the Rescue board, and Patrick Moreland, assistant town manager.
At that meeting, Manale announced to Hazelton that the town was not going to renew the three-year contract.
Until the town's April 11 public announcement, there was no public discussion regarding the decision. It was not brought up at Annual Representative Town Meeting. No discussion ever took place at Selectboard meetings.
This is déjà vu.
In 2014, the Putney Selectboard wanted to save $22,000 a year by retaining Golden Cross ambulance service - and not renewing the Rescue contract.
In Putney's case, the townspeople demanded to be heard, and a Special Town Meeting was held. Brattleboro's current fire chief, Leonard Howard III, spoke against Rescue at that meeting.
In the end, the vote was 141 in favor of keeping Rescue in the budget and 33 against.
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It is not unreasonable to think of fire departments as EMS providers - the International Association of Fire Fighters union has been pushing nationwide for fire departments to provide ambulance service. And in some communities, this might be the way to go.
But when you have an award-winning service whose staff and volunteers are highly trained and that has partnered with the community for over 50 years, an abrupt change would be reckless - especially when it comes to life-and-death situations. Rescue Inc. is not just an ambulance service, but a partner in community response to natural disasters, fires, and pandemics.
All of us want the Selectboard and the town manager to do due diligence to keep the town budget under control, but this is an extreme and egregious decision. I like to think that town government looks out for the best interests of its citizens. In this case, the Selectboard has gravely failed them - especially its seniors.
There is no question that the change will result in a reduction of services and a shift of costs onto the fixed-income seniors that rely on Rescue's programs and services to help them save money.
The voters of Brattleboro need a chance to weigh in - the Selectboard should not be the sole deciders. If this decision is any example of how the new board operates, they have failed, in my opinion.
The Selectboard should agree to schedule a Special Town Meeting where both the town (and Golden Cross, as its vendor) and Rescue Inc. have the opportunity to be heard. Let each present a case to the community.
And then, let the townspeople vote.
The contract for Rescue Inc. costs Brattleboro residents just $24.02 a year. Let's see how many residents are eager to vote yes for Rescue.