Town officials will meet with the Natick Fire Department within the next two weeks to discuss the privatization of Natick’s ambulance service as a way to save the town money.
It’s a step the firefighters say they are opposed to, but town officials insist merits investigation.
“Every time there's someone new on the Board of Selectmen, we fight this battle,” said Fire Department union head Daniel Hartwell. “It's getting to the point where it's totally ridiculous… Why would you change things that aren't broken?”
But according to a preliminary report compiled by assistant Town Administrator Michael Walters Young, privatizing the department’s advanced life support service—meaning services that involve intravenous and medication administration—could save the town money.
The town approved an override in 2000 for $427,000 to hire firefighters trained in advanced life support services. Almost all firefighters can provide basic life support services from any of the town's fire vehicles.
According to Walters Young’s estimates, the expenses needed to run the ambulance service exceed the revenue that’s pulled in. While the difference was an estimated $50,000 in fiscal year 2009, that figure could jump to almost $400,000 by fiscal year 2015, he found.
Hartwell disputes Walters Young’s figures, and said the Fire Department will present more accurate numbers that show the department actually makes money off the operation.
“We're going to disprove all the facts that the town has,” said Hartwell.
Fire Chief James Sheridan said he is also opposed to privatizing. “We’ve invested a lot of time and energy into perfecting our system,” he said. “We’ve been providing the service since 1924 and it cannot be duplicated by a private entity.”
Said Hartwell, “We get thank you letters and letters of praise on a daily basis on what a great service we do”
Walters Young said he is committed to talking with the Fire Department and incorporating all of their data and ideas into the study. He said he realizes the subject can be emotionally wrought, but that it’s his job to collect all the objective data for decision-makers to vote on.
“My job as a public administrator is to make sure that policy makers have the best information available to make informed decisions,” he said. “That, in a nutshell, is what this study does.”
Besides detailing the financial info, the study looks at the history of the department’s ambulance service and compares Natick’s service to those of nearby towns. Both Wellesley and Framingham use the private national ambulance company American Medical Response for their ambulance service, while Ashland, Needham, and Hopkinton have kept theirs town-run.
Walters Young said he expects the study will be done in September. The issue is on the agenda for the Sept. 21 Board of Selectmen meeting.