TOWNSEND -- Once the primary provider of advanced life support service to surrounding towns, Townsend now provides the service only within town and for Ashby.
A Ford Expedition, outfitted with ALS equipment and staffed by two paramedics, formerly responded to calls in these communities as well as Pepperell, Groton and parts of Lunenburg.
"We took it out of service due to cost factors. Obviously there's not enough revenue coming in to support it," Townsend Fire Chief Don Klein said.
"The state and federal government regulate what you can charge. Their rates do not cover the cost of service out here," he said.
It costs approximately $800 to send the truck out on a call, he said. MassHealth and Medicare only pay $350 for the ALS portion of the ambulance call. Private insurance pays more.
The equipment on the ALS truck was moved to the two town-owned ambulances. Both are certified for ALS.
The truck remains as a backup. It was used when one ambulance was out of service for six weeks.
Two paramedics are on duty at the Fire Department at all times. They are more highly trained and paid than emergency medical technicians.
Firefighters are now required to be EMTs. Klein said he usually splits the crews, sending one paramedic and one EMT, usually an on-call firefighter, out on calls in order to have a crew in reserve in case of a second call.
Townsend still provides backup service to the other towns. Ayer, Brookline, N.H., and MedStar provide backup service to the town.
Townsend stopped offering primary service to most towns in July and the budget figures are not totally in, Klein said, but revenues are down.
He estimates there is enough money in the ambulance receipts account to last into 2015. The department uses funds from this account for both operating expenses and capital expenditures.
The chief is looking for a way to continue to provide quality service to the community once that account is dry.
Providing emergency services is expensive, he said.
"The communities themselves cannot sustain an ALS service on their own," he said.
"I have been in talks with the Lunenburg fire chief and the Groton fire chief. We have been talking about doing a true regional truck that all of the towns support," he said.
There are details to be worked out.
"The problem is, once you go to a regional system, there are always two paramedics on duty," he said. If a second call came in, no one would be available.
Eventually a regional service would need to have two trucks, he said.
If a solution is not found, the Townsend ALS service could be dropped, Klein said.
"I don't want to see that happen," he said.