Chester board OKs community health initiative, full-time Fire Chief post

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2024 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Chester Select Board at its April 17 meeting approved some major new initiatives in public safety, including a community health program that would expand the work of the town’s ambulance service beyond emergency response and a full-time fire chief.

Ambulance Chief Mike Randzio explains the initiative to the board. Photo by Shawn Cunningham

Ambulance Chief Mike Randzio told the board that the community health initiative brings some aspects of healthcare to the home in conjunction with Springfield Hospital and North Star Health and others. The idea is to develop a program that can help people – especially those with chronic conditions – proactively rather than through emergency calls. Randzio said that as the program rolls out, the ambulance service could be providing:

  • care transitions (hospital to home)
  • chronic disease support
  • wound care
  • vital signs monitoring/blood pressure checks
  • medication reconciliation and compliance
  • home safety evaluations
  • assistance setting up services like Life Alert
  • assistance with getting mobility aids
  • at home blood draws for those who have trouble with transportation

Those services would be rolled out over 12 to 18 months as training and coordination with local healthcare providers is established. As part of the preparation for the service, Randizo will begin the training and certification program to become a paramedic. Paramedics are more highly trained than EMTs and Advanced EMTs, and are qualified to perform more advanced procedures and administer medications.

In addition to the healthcare support, Randzio noted that the program would give the fire and police a heads-up where the most vulnerable and at-risk residents are in emergencies like storms or floods.

The cost of this program is expected to be covered by grants and partnerships with healthcare organizations, but another source of revenue could be in providing transportation between healthcare facilities. Such transports are lucrative and there are not enough qualified services to provide them. Randzio told the board that patients in one facility may have to wait days to be transported to another facility. But when the town’s new ambulance comes later this year, the ambulance service would be in a position to begin doing transports, if the department keeps the current ambulance.

Randzio said that transports would be done when there are enough trained staff to both cover the town with the new ambulance and transport with the old one. Town Manager Julie Hance then asked the Select Board for permission to keep the old ambulance, which the board approved. She also said that the new initiative needs to “take baby steps” to prove itself, which is necessary to secure grants. She also noted that this health initiative has limits and is “not healthcare in your home.”

Board member Lee Gustafson said he was in favor of the idea and wanted to be sure to present it to taxpayers properly.

“Communication is the biggest hurdle we face,” said Gustafson, suggesting a large rollout.

Hance told the board there would be an outreach program at 6 pm. on May 2 at Town Hall.

Fire chief to become full-time position

The Chester Fire Department is a volunteer force whose members are paid by the hour when they turn out for emergencies and for some of their training. But most – including the chief – have full-time jobs. Hance told the board that the town needs to look at the chief position now and decide whether the advantages of having a full-time chief outweigh the costs.

Hance said there is more to be done – especially administratively – than a person can do in the allotted hours. She and Police Chief Tom Williams, who is full time and volunteers with the Fire Department, noted that a full-time fire chief would help to shorten response times and stay on top of National Fire Protection Association codes and standards. Williams noted that a fire department has to meet myriad specific standards and that being out of compliance when a mishap occurs can lead to large liability claims.

Hance said that while the state does not have enough fire safety inspectors to check all of the short-term rentals, a full-time fire chief who becomes certified as an inspector could perform those duties under an agreement with the state.

Citing a recent meeting with officials at the Green Mountain High School, Williams said that having a fire chief who is regularly available helps streamline emergency planning. He said having Acting Fire Chief Ben Whalen in the meeting along with Randzio and himself made the meeting more productive.

After more discussion, the board voted unanimously to create a full-time chief position starting June 15. Whalen, who currently works as a state fire marshal is expected to apply for the job.

Legal review of short-term rental changes

The board looked a letter from town attorney Jim Carroll on the latest proposed changes to the short-term rental ordinance and application. While board members agreed with the changes Carroll would make to portions of those documents, they were resistant on others, including dropping the waiting period and the cap on the number of STRs one person or entity could own. Their changes in response to Carroll’s will be sent back to him for review.

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  1. RAYMOND E MAKUL says:

    Andover contracts with Chester for fire and ambulance services. Almost 10% of the Andover municipal budget is paid over to Chester for these services. Andover has no input into these decisions of how Chester manages its Fire and Ambulance services, what services are provided to Andover residents and properties, or how its taxpayer money is spent.

    The American Revolution was fought, in part, over the issue of the American Colonies paying taxes without representation of how those taxes were spent. Today, Andover taxpayers have no representation of how its moneys paid to Chester are spent.

    Andover’s population and inventory of property is growing. Its time for Andover to rethink how these services are provided to its residents and property owners.