Residents show support for local ambulance service

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

A young girl’s seizure, a man’s bloodied leg through a glass table, and a woman’s broken shinbone piercing through her skin were all recent Williston emergencies.

The three Williston residents involved in these incidents spoke at the public hearing on the town budget last week. They said that their emergencies would have been better handled if the town had its own ambulance service, one of the items that could come before voters in March.

Williston Fire Chief Ken Morton hopes voters this year will authorize the purchase of two ambulances and the hiring of six more full time firefighter/emergency medical technicians to staff an ambulance service for the town. The town has commissioned a study on the cost and feasibility of the ambulance service. Morton said the study will be complete Jan. 22. The Selectboard will then decide whether to put funding for the ambulance service and staff in the town budget, or have residents vote on it as a separate ballot item at town meeting.

Currently Williston uses St. Michael’s Rescue for ambulance service. Morton said having a town ambulance service could cut the response time from an average of 11-14 minutes to within 3-4 minutes. The increased demand for ambulance services in Williston has made the need for a town ambulance service a matter of some urgency, according to Morton.

The residents who showed up to speak echoed Morton’s sentiment.

“My sense is that we as a community have an opportunity to upgrade what is already a fine service,” said Katherine Stamper, a resident since 1992. Stamper said she once had to call 911 for her daughter’s friend who had a seizure. She said that while the first responder service was excellent, the ambulance response time could have been better.

Fourteen-year Williston resident Danny Bulger agreed. Bulger said a month ago his wife fell in his driveway and suffered a compound fracture in her leg, with the bone breaking the skin. He called 911, he said, but had to wait too long for an ambulance to arrive.

“Seeing your wife lying in the driveway out in the cold, with a compound fracture for half an hour is very frustrating,” Bulger said.

Ted Marcy, a physician at Fletcher Allen Health Care, said he had to call an ambulance after he accidentally put his foot through a glass table.

“In certain situations first responders have limited abilities to act on things,” Marcy said. “I would encourage the Selectboard to put this proposal to a vote.”

At the hearing, Morton also read a letter from Joseph Haddock, medical director of the Thomas Chittenden Health Center in Williston.

“The physicians of the Thomas Chittenden Health Center strongly support the development of a Williston ambulance service,” the letter read. “Whether patients are at home, work, shopping, or at our facility, the response time would be much better than the present situation where they are dependent on local first response crews or rescue squads from neighboring towns.”

If approved, the cost of the additional six full-time firefighter/EMTs needed to staff the ambulance would be covered for the first five years by a $621,000 federal grant the department won in November. The ambulances (a new one and a used one for backup) would likely cost about $250,000, which could be bonded by the town.

The Selectboard will meet again Jan. 11, at 7 p.m., to discuss the budget.