ROCKINGHAM — Windham County's two largest population centers are poles apart when it comes to their municipal governments' thoughts on how to provide local emergency medical services.
Brattleboro has generated months of headlines for its selectboard's decision to drop a nearly 60-year contract with the region's largest and longest-serving EMS provider, Rescue Inc., and hire competitor Golden Cross Ambulance to help with a proposed fire department takeover of coverage.
Now Rockingham leaders are considering whether to drop their almost two-decade connection with Golden Cross and switch to Rescue.
“There have been ups and downs with our relationship, and we're trying to figure out if there are other opportunities,” Rockingham Municipal Manager Scott Pickup said.
Rockingham pays $75,000 annually for Golden Cross service. But even before the New Hampshire provider signed a $112,500 contract with Brattleboro earlier this year, it has left many Rockingham calls to be picked up by mutual aid from neighboring communities.
The nearby town of Walpole, New Hampshire, for example, has responded to so many Rockingham calls, it has warned it may stop altogether.
“It's almost becoming a daily occurrence and, quite frankly, that's not how mutual aid is supposed to work,” Pickup said. “Walpole's primary mission is to serve their residents and if they're out of their jurisdiction, it makes it harder for them to do their job.”
As a result, Rockingham has invited both Golden Cross and Rescue to bid on its EMS contract for the coming fiscal year.
“We're trying to encourage some competition,” Pickup said.
Golden Cross has not responded to VTDigger requests for comment.
Brattleboro Selectboard primed to receive study
Brattleboro, for its part, is set to receive a feasibility study on its own EMS future. AP Triton, the consulting company, is set to appear at the Selectboard's Dec. 20 meeting to offer its analysis of a partial or full takeover by the fire department or a return to Rescue or another provider.
The Selectboard initially said money was a major concern when it unanimously voted last April with little public notice or debate to swap a $285,600 annual contact with Rescue for a lower-priced one-year transition agreement with Golden Cross.
But since the switch took effect in July, Brattleboro has spent enough on unanticipated expenses to eat up the promised savings. Local leaders who argued in the spring that “it's our job to negotiate contracts that are best for the town” now are talking about the need to consider greater municipal control, even though the only residents speaking out at meetings are questioning the change.
The consultants have acknowledged a division in community opinion as they stress that their review will be independent and impartial.
“We have a very good understanding that it is a polarized issue,” senior project manager Rich Buchanan told the Selectboard this fall. “We have to look at many different items and metrics. In the end, you folks will decide what your constituents believe are the priorities.”
Many townspeople are skeptical, as the municipal government has quashed public calls to elaborate on the surprise switch and has yet to release any documents explaining the decision.
But Selectboard Chair Ian Goodnow has promised an open process once the consultants release the study.
“The board is going to, in very public, probably multiple meetings and discussions, look at all of the data that's provided to us and ensure that we're moving in the right direction,” Goodnow said.