By FRANK LEWIS
PDT Staff Writer
While Portsmouth Fire Chief Bill Raison was working on a business plan to add EMS services to the Portsmouth Fire Department, firefighters union president Tony Hamilton brought the issue up first at Monday’s City Council meeting.
“There has been discussions for quite some time on this matter that the fire department wished to venture into. In fact, if not mistaken, it seems to me that it first surfaced back when Bob Storey was chief,” Portsmouth Mayor David Malone said. “I know for a fact that the idea first originated with former Mayor Jim Kalb . The department has done extensive research to ascertain the viability and sustainability of the operation. I believe they are continuing to look at the possibility of performing such operation.”
Malone told Council the Fire Department has purchased a nearly new unit in June or July for $2,000 and the funds came out of the donations received from the Eagles, so the general fund has not yet absorbed any cost for equipment, research or any miscellaneous items in the process, nor is it included in the budget for 2012.
“It is not the intent of the department to engage in any procedures toward implementing this operation without presentation to and approval from Council,” Malone said. “Mr. Hamilton’s attendance and address to Council on Monday was a ploy to push the chief to move this idea forward (as believed by the chief). It is not the chief’s desire nor intent to move forward with this anytime soon. As for the employees to perform the duties require(d), I believe the Chief mentioned that the majority of the firefighters already are trained to perform the basic EMT duties and any future hires will be trained prior to hire. I am positive the chief will present to Council a business plan with all pertinent information should he feel that this is something we can move forward with.”
The email drew a response from First Ward Councilman Kevin Johnson.
“I value ‘thinking outside the box,’ Mr. Mayor. And this may be an instance where such thinking is not only beneficial to the public but also to the vision of what type of city we see Portsmouth being in the future,” Johnson responded. “Though unable to speak on behalf of other members of Council, I believe a number of my fellow members join me in being concerned for the process utilized to purchase a currently non-performing asset; a nearly-new ambulance. When Council votes to accept donations it is with the understanding, especially in times of fiscal crisis, that the monies are deposited into a City-managed account and would be utilized by the recipient department for necessary needs that may have been under-funded or un-funded due to fiscal necessity; thus relieving pressure on the General Fund.”
Johnson went on to say - “That there were no other pressing needs in the department is, to me, indicative of the department’s belief that our fiscal crisis does not affect them. Though I look forward to receiving further information from the Fire Department regarding this EMS project (business plan, P&L etc), I believe it will be incumbent upon members of Council to question how any future donations will be utilized by the recipient department in the future.”
“Everybody knows now we are exploring the possibility, and have been for nearly a year,” Raison said Friday afternoon. “We’re exploring the possibility because we believe that it is the best model for the city of Portsmouth as far as public safety is concerned. A lot of guys in my department have put in a lot of work on it. I’ve got guys in my department who firmly believe this is what we should do. They have invested a great deal of their time and energy into working on this proposal.”
Raison said most full-time paid fire departments already offer EMS services.
“Some of our guys say we’re a dinosaur when it comes to strictly fire and rescue services only,” Raison said. “We are the exception and not the rule.”
Raison said the reason he has not brought the idea before Council is because his department is still working on putting together a good solid basis for what they are going to do, and because there is a lot of pressing business before City Council right now.