Rescue debacle: What happened, and what can we learn?

BRATTLEBORO — A lot has happened with EMS in Brattleboro over the past year, too much to put into a brief letter. I've heard a number of different versions, but as yet I have not heard anyone say things have gone well.

When things don't go well, it makes sense to examine the events and see what might have been done differently, but that has not really happened either.

Some say such an examination cannot happen for bureaucratic and/or legal reasons, but I don't accept that point of view. I think we must examine what happened and use the resulting knowledge to help things go better in the future.

A famous line from Cool Hand Luke - “what we've got here is failure to communicate” - summarizes a crucial interval in last winter's events, from early February to late March, during which there was apparently no communication between the Town of Brattleboro and Rescue Inc.

On Feb. 9, 2022 there was meeting between then–Town Manager Yoshi Manale and Rescue Chief of Operations Drew Hazelton, at which the two could not agree on a path forward. The town wanted financial information from Rescue. Hazelton declined to provide it and says he had no authority to do so. Manale countered by offering zero dollars for a contract in place of the budgeted $289,000, and an impasse was reached.

There things remained until March 25, 2022. No contact between Manale and Hazelton. No contact between the Selectboard and Rescue's Board of Directors.

Then Rescue's letter arrived. Rescue says it was an invitation to restart the negotiations. On the town side, it was viewed as a provocation, some seeing the letter as so insulting it precluded any positive response. Its arrival left little time for the town to come up with a substitute EMS provider. A search was quickly conducted, with Golden Cross Ambulance getting the contract.

So here's the question: What was going on from Feb. 9 to March 25? Clearly, the budgeted plan for Rescue to continue providing ambulance services was at risk. Clearly, there was no alternative plan in place.

So how is it that no one decided we needed to communicate, and no one picked up the phone and started communicating?

This was the period of time when the situation we're in now could have been avoided. Yes, perhaps we might have ended up in the same place, but more likely we'd be involved in an orderly process for deciding the future of EMS in Brattleboro, with potentially better options on the table than we're now looking at.

And, equally important: Why is it so hard to talk about this? Why, a year later, is so much still unclear? Why are we functioning without a mutual aid agreement with the ambulance service that served us for 56 years?

It's almost like neither the town nor Rescue cares if an ambulance has to come from 25 miles away when there's one available right down the street. Is it more important to stay angry than to help our people and our community?

The AP Triton report will provide the town a framework for moving ahead. But we still have to ask: What happened? What have we learned? How will we do better in the future?

I think Brattleboro deserves answers to these questions, and I would like to see them as a focus of discussion at the same time as we move forward in the other important aspects of town affairs.

We can do it. It shouldn't be that hard.

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