“Repeat offenders” who call 911 for non-emergencies could be billed by the Ambulance Service after a certain number of calls if proposed ordinance changes are approved.

Town Manager Courtney O'Donnell pointed out the change under ambulance fees in the Application, License, Permit Fees ordinance and said the $100 fee was inserted at the suggestion of Ambulance Director Chas Hare. The fee would probably not be covered by the caller's health insurance.

“This is for people who frequently fall and call for lift assistance,” she said. “That's not what the Ambulance Service is for.”

Initially, Selectman Tom Fraser said he did not think the fee was a good idea and might discourage people who need medical assistance from calling for help.

“So, it'll cost you $100 to have someone pick you up?” he asked, wondering who decides if the call is an emergency. For example, he said, if it's 12 below zero, “You're just going to leave them there?”

“Absolutely not!” O'Donnell said. “If people fall and get hurt, that is absolutely an ambulance call.”

She explained there are a few residents — repeat offenders — who call the ambulance several times per month. Those residents are not treated for injuries and do not wish to go to the hospital. According to the proposed ordinance, the fee would apply to an "ambulance response without treatment with no transport" to the hospital. Other local programs are available for those residents “aging in place” who may live independently but are prone to falls, O'Donnell said.

“This isn't meant to discourage people from using the ambulance,” she said.

Selectman Betsy Bradley suggested language to allow for two non-emergency responses per year, with the caveat those callers be advised of the other available options either by ambulance personnel or by way of written information.

“If it's medical, they really need to call the ambulance,” O'Donnell emphasized. She said Hare has spoken to no avail with some callers currently summoning the ambulance for non-emergency calls.

“Older people don't want to be a pain in the ass,” Fraser said. “I'm just afraid people won't call.”

Selectman Peter Curley suggested an in-person explanation of the fees to violators might be more effective than simply reading the ordinance.

“I don't think it's going to be a big deal, really,” Curley said.

Fraser appeared mollified and said, “Then (ambulance personnel) explain if it happens again, they have to pay.”

O'Donnell briefly left the room to speak with Hare as selectmen continued their discussion. When she returned she said Hare agreed two responses per year would be reasonable before imposing the fee.

“He said he would send out a letter to those he is familiar with,” O'Donnell said.

Selectmen took no action on the proposal, as the agenda item was listed as a review. There will be a public hearing on the changes at 9 a.m. during the regular morning meeting of selectmen April 19.