STOCKTON SPRINGS — The Select Board received a letter of resignation as of Sept. 16 from Ambulance Director Ken Folette Jr. at its Sept. 2 meeting. Folette was just hired in June.

In his letter, he said leaving the job caused him “great heartache,” but that he could “never ask anyone to do something I, myself, am unwilling to do,” and that “I cannot stand behind any government ruling that would force someone (who is fully qualified to perform their job) to do something they strongly oppose,” referring to the state requirement for health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 1.

The letter also notes that Folette will be unable to cover slots left vacant when other crew members are unavailable because, as a result of “this mandate, my Maine EMT license will become void … .” In it, he says he will do everything he could to ensure a smooth transition to a new director.

Folette told The Republican Journal Sept. 6, “I’m not against vaccines,” but that the situation is more complicated than state officials have allowed. He said the state has a right to require health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and other communicable diseases, as long as exemptions are allowed.

He thinks religious exemptions should be permitted, as well as medical exemptions beyond those currently allowed for allergies to specific ingredients of the vaccines. He noted that because the COVID-19 vaccines are new, people might not know whether they are allergic to some of the ingredients. He also explained that as a veteran who was injured while serving in Iraq, he now has significant neurological issues, which he is concerned could be aggravated by the shot.

He was burned over 30% of his body, and now it reacts in unexpected ways, he said, for example, to a blood transfusion. He expressed frustration at the narrowness of the parameters for medical exemptions to the new vaccination requirement.

Folette said that, although his Maine EMT license will become void Oct. 1 because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19, he would still be able to be an EMT in a state without the requirement, because he has a national license. He has already had offers from out of state, he said, adding that the national license is common among EMTs, and an exodus of crew members from the state in response to the COVID vaccination mandate is a real possibility.

Select Board members also wrote a letter to Gov. Janet Mills, explaining that the town may lose its ambulance service “(b)ecause of your mandate.” It goes on to say, “Three of our regularly responding crew are not vaccinated and do not plan to be vaccinated, all due to serious concerns.” The crew members are willing to wear all necessary protective gear and submit to regular testing, the letter says.

Folette elaborated on that, saying “We would all be fine with taking a nose swab every day we had shift and wearing a respirator (N95 mask) if we had to.”

The letter notes that a few months ago the town was facing the loss of its ambulance service due to inadequate staffing. “At our June town meeting, we nearly doubled the budget of that department to allow for on-call pay, which has allowed our department to start much-needed growth in its ranks.”

The letter also raises the plight of Stockton Springs’ neighbor to the north, Prospect, which depends on it for ambulance service, saying, “If the Stockton Springs Ambulance Department is forced to close due to your mandate and join with neighboring Searsport, Prospect will be left without any ambulance service at all.” A letter from the town of Prospect, also pleading for some type of accommodation for EMS members who are “unable to receive vaccinations for legitimate, and apolitical, medical reasons beyond allergies to the vaccines,” was attached.

Acknowledging the “need for the pandemic to be over,” the Stockton Springs letter concludes by saying, “we feel that you are sacrificing the immediate safety of our residents for your overall sweeping precautions. The unintended consequences of your mandate are a threat to our health and safety. We urge you to do something to remedy this immediate crisis.”

Select Board members each responded to questions from The Journal by email. All expressed gratitude to, and support for, the town’s EMS crew members who, in the words of board member Darren Shute, “stood by all of us through the pandemic, knowing the risks involved,  without question. They continue to use all the protective equipment and care just as much as they did before the vaccine.”

He also noted that the situation was not as cut-and-dried as some would make out and said because this vaccine is so new, people, including health care workers, have a right to be cautious about it.

Members Marsha Shute and Betsy Bradley each said the board wrote its letter to inform the governor of the town’s situation and ask her help in finding a solution.

Bradley also told The Journal in her email, “we stand a chance of losing our ambulance because we may not have enough volunteers to staff all of the shifts. We need our ambulance service. Our number of calls has been increasing and we averaged one every day in August. The town of Prospect depends on our ambulance service as well. It is important for the governor to know the situation we are in. We are not alone in this, as many other towns are in great need of volunteers to work on their ambulances as well.”

Jackie Farwell, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, responded by email Sept. 7 to questions from The Republican Journal, saying, “Health care workers — including emergency medical service personnel — perform a critical role in protecting the health and lives of Maine people.  It is imperative that they take every precaution to protect themselves and those they serve, particularly as the dangerous and highly transmissible Delta variant has taken hold in Maine.”

She went on to note that both the Professional Fire Fighters of Maine and the International Association of Fire Chiefs, have endorsed requiring emergency personnel to be vaccinated against COVID-19. She quoted from the IAFC endorsement, which said, in part, “Repeated studies have shown that fire and EMS personnel can be up to 15 times more likely than the public to contract COVID-19 and are one of the most vulnerable classes of healthcare providers in terms of workplace exposures to COVID-19.”

Farwell also noted that as of August, the state has had at least 10 COVID-19 outbreaks associated with EMS, “which have forced first responders to isolate or quarantine and have driven staff shortages.” She also noted that the rule allows for a medical exemption.