William E. Kraham

A squandered opportunity

The Brattleboro Selectboard has failed to grasp that the fire department is primarily a public safety organization, while Rescue is primarily a healthcare organization. Its vote to embrace the fire-EMS model was disheartening but did not come as a surprise.

BRATTLEBORO — I have a landline and a rotary phone on my kitchen counter, underneath a kitchen cabinet with an orange sticker on the inside of the door - it's from the 1980s. It has the telephone number for Rescue Inc.

I yearn to be able to call Rescue for our next medical emergency but, to quote Bob Dylan, "the pump don't work, 'cause the vandals took the handles."

The Brattleboro Selectboard's decision to choose the fire-EMS model and to reject Rescue Inc. as our emergency medical services provider was disheartening but did not come as a surprise.

The die was cast long ago. The fire-EMS model had been the town's goal all along, ever since it abruptly severed ties with Rescue in April 2022. The town never had any intention of ever going back to Rescue, and that's why it stacked the deck against Rescue in the bid process. The Selectboard is now complicit in the town's regrettable contra-Rescue campaign.

Equally disturbing, however, was the Selectboard's abdication of its responsibility under our town charter to "serve the needs of all Brattleboro residents by respecting the will of the people."

If there was any doubt that the 425 residents who took the time to sign the Rescue petition did not reflect the will of the people, the Selectboard had the opportunity to call for a referendum - a simple up-or-down vote by the legal voters - to determine whether Rescue should be our EMS provider.

There was no referendum, because the town and the Selectboard do not care what the people want.

Should the Fire Department's coincidental removal of the "Celebrate Democracy" banner hanging over Main Street a few days before the Selectboard's vote have been taken as an omen?

We have heard at least one Selectboard member publicly state, "We can do whatever we want."

* * *

The town has squandered the opportunity to be a prominent proponent and participant in a robust regional EMS system, with Rescue Inc. as its anchor, leading the way for the rest of the state. The challenges that we face today, and the challenges that we will face tomorrow transcend town boundaries.

Brattleboro is not an island. Our town has decided to close ranks, to start its own EMS, permanently withdrawing from the network of 15 towns being served by the best regional EMS provider in the state.

The message we are sending to our friends and neighbors served by Rescue in surrounding towns is this: We are going to take care of our own people, we don't need you, and we expect the same.

This is not only shortsighted, it's dangerous. This train is on the wrong track, and there is trouble ahead.

* * *

EMS has evolved well beyond a "load and go" or "scoop and run" transportation service. An EMS service must be able to provide pre-hospital care to victims of sudden and life-threatening injuries or emergencies, using advanced clinical technology and advanced life support transportation from the scene to the nearest emergency department.

Rescue has the experienced paramedics, ambulances, and equipment to accomplish this task. The fire department does not.

The chosen EMS model is what a Texan might call "all hat and no cattle." The quality of emergency medical care provided to the patient is the essential element that may determine whether someone lives or dies.

The town has failed to grasp that the fire department is primarily a public safety organization, while Rescue is primarily a healthcare organization.

If there are Brattleboro firefighters who wish to be trained to become paramedics at Rescue's Vermont EMS Academy in Newfane, they will be welcomed. If the town desires to acquire an Advanced Life Support ambulance of its own, to back up and support Rescue and our friends and neighbors in the region, that would be ideal.

We are all in this together. Rescue should be our partner - not our pariah.

William Kraham is an attorney and counselor at law in Brattleboro.

This Voices Viewpoint was submitted to The Commons.

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