Harrison says town EMS should remain

It has been said that Woodbridge will see cost savings over the next six years without any sacrifice in the quality of emergency medical services (EMS). I see things differently. While we may save some money, I think the level of service with a regional ambulance will be less.

When we established both a paramedic fly car and a Woodbridge-based ambulance in 1998, we wanted the best coverage for our residents, especially for those few individuals who would experience a life-threatening emergency. Medical experts told us that in some of those very serious situations, the prompt arrival of a well-trained paramedic was crucial. In other cases, a paramedic was not the critical factor. The rapid transport to a local hospital by an ambulance could make the difference between life and death. Therefore, we chose the combination of a paramedic and a Woodbridge-based ambulance to cover fully all-serious medical emergencies.

For years prior to 1998, the regional-based ambulance recorded a response time of about 15 minutes, despite an incentive of up to $40,000 to lower the response time. We wanted to do better. We established a Woodbridge-based ambulance. According to state records, an average response time of just under 6 minutes for 100 percent of EMS calls was recorded for 1999 and 2000 with our Woodbridge based ambulance.

Now we have returned to a regional ambulance. We have entered into a multi-year contract that calls for a response time of 13 minutes or less, 90 percent of the time for priority one (most seriously ill or injured) patients and 16 minutes or less, 90 percent of the time for priority two patients on a monthly calculation basis. Is a response time of 13 minutes vs. six minutes the same level of service for someone facing a life-threatening situation? Sure we would all like to save money but let's be frank with each other about the trade offs involved in this recent change.

In 1998, some 900 people contributed money for a Woodbridge-based ambulance. This fund raising drive came at the end of several months of intense, public debate. The town wanted both a paramedic fly car and a Woodbridge-based ambulance. Now, we have abruptly terminated our Woodbridge-based ambulance following a one-day notice of three Board meetings, all scheduled on the same night one week before Christmas. Given the involvement of so many residents in raising money for a Woodbridge-based ambulance and based on the universal impact of EMS, this issue deserved more open discussion in an open forum before a decision was made.

Woodbridge is not an ordinary town. We feel passionately about quality of life issues such as education, open space and EMS protection. Perhaps this is why so many people are so upset with the recent decision to close down our Woodbridge-based ambulance. Those feelings have also been intensified by the rushed manner in which the decision was made.

Process is important and vital in our form of government. Whatever the savings might be, the town has been short-changed by this hasty decision. Given the importance of this matter, Town leaders owe us a detailed explanation of the claim that there will be no sacrifice in the level of emergency medical services.

Roger Harrison is the former first selectman of Woodbridge