ELLSWORTH — County Ambulance will shut down on Aug. 31 after 45 years serving Ellsworth and surrounding towns.
“It’s been a long run, a good run,” said John Partridge, the company’s owner, who notified the city of his intentions on Monday and the state on Tuesday.
“It’s time for me to move on. There’s no way to continue providing our community service in an economically sustainable manner.”
Partridge said he was confident his 26 employees would be able to find jobs in the area, adding that many already work part time for other companies.
“That’s been one of my concerns, of course,” Partridge said. “They are special people. There will be opportunities for them.”
Partridge said he had offered to donate an ambulance with equipment to a “conglomerate of towns.” He said he wasn’t concerned about leaving a void in the region.
“I’m sure that things will go on. The reality is there are other services around that can fill in this area.”
Joe Kellner, vice president of emergency services and community programs for Bangor-based Capital Ambulance Service, said the company had learned of the coming closure on Tuesday morning and was starting the process “right away” of providing coverage until more permanent arrangements can be made with the towns covered by County Ambulance.
“We are certainly interested in talking to anybody that’s interested in talking to us,” Kellner said.
Capital Ambulance Service, which is affiliated with Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems and Maine Coast Memorial Hospital, already has one ambulance in Ellsworth on weekdays during the day. That truck comes down from Bangor each morning and returns in the evening.
“We’re still in the planning stages, but our estimation is that we’ll take two ambulances 24/7,” Kellner said. The ambulances may be based at Maine Coast Memorial Hospital for a little while until the company can figure out another plan.
Kellner praised Partridge for his years of service to the city, adding that he covered over a dozen towns in Hancock County.
“He has a true passion for serving that community and we look forward to filling some big shoes,” Kellner said.
City councilors learned of the impending closure shortly before a meeting on Monday in which they discussed the future of emergency medical services in the city.
But that knowledge was not enough to convince councilors to move forward with a plan to provide emergency medical training to Ellsworth firefighters and house two ambulances in the Ellsworth Fire Department.
Councilors voted to table the motion, which would have brought a draft request for proposal to the city’s legal team for review.
Several councilors argued that the request, which was put together over the past several months by the Emergency Medical Services Committee, needed further refining before being brought to legal.
Councilors expressed concerns about what they viewed as a lack of detail, particularly in regard to the costs that would be incurred by the city.
“It’s putting the cart before the horse,” said Councilor Dale Hamilton. “It’s putting out a request for something without knowing whether we want to commit anything.”
Councilor Bob Crosthwaite wondered whether ambulance services should be under the umbrella of city government at all.
“Is it our responsibility to provide this service?” Crosthwaite asked. “If it isn’t, we don’t need to talk anymore. If it is, then it’s a new day in Ellsworth. What happened to private enterprise?”
Councilor Gary Fortier was the sole vote opposed to tabling the motion, arguing that the committee had spoken with interested parties and researched numerous types of delivery systems for emergency services before it had come to this point, and had left parts of the proposal purposefully open-ended.
“We felt that if we left it open enough we may get more robust proposals from more organizations,” Fortier said. “This is what we want as an end result; tell us how you plan to get us there.”
Fire Department Chief Richard Tupper said he understood the concerns about the city incurring additional costs, but felt that it was a service expected by citizens.
“I don’t think it’s subsidizing private business,” Tupper said. “In my personal opinion, private business is the person selling wares on the street. This is emergency services.”
Tupper cautioned that the city is not covered for firefighters to assist in car crashes or other emergencies because the department does not have staff trained in emergency services, which he said his staff have been doing with increasing frequency.
“My neck is way out on the line when I allow my guys to go out and assist an ambulance company, assist the public on the street, assist our visitors to Ellsworth,” Tupper said. “We’re in over our heads a little bit.”
Tupper added that the city must train its firefighters in emergency medical response “to protect the city and us, or we need to stop that practice.”
The closure of County Ambulance poses problems for an already-strained emergency services team, said Hancock County Regional Communications Center Director Robert Conary in an interview on Tuesday.
“There’s nothing worse than having to tell somebody ‘Well, I don’t really have an ambulance for you right now,’” Conary said. “We have shortages of ambulances without this added issue. It’s tough.”