Liberty Volunteer Ambulance seeking help

By Stephanie Grinnell | Apr 09, 2014

Liberty — Like any number of volunteer ambulance services across the state, Liberty Volunteer Ambulance is facing a crisis: a lack of willing, trained personnel.

According to Service Chief Chris Birge, the service has been operating for the past year with only a few people responding to calls. The ambulance service also covers Montville. On March 29 during Liberty's annual town meeting, Birge pleaded his case to townspeople, noting the service is in a "dire situation."

"The service is at a point where we really can't provide adequate daytime coverage for either town," he said.

This winter, Birge and one other volunteer — Edna, a woman in her 80s — have been the only personnel available during the day. This summer, Birge said there will be no one besides Edna to respond to calls for help, unless she is working elsewhere.

"It's kind of selfish of us to expect an 85-year-old to provide coverage during the day," Birge said. " ... We're leaning toward hiring someone who can be around during the day, otherwise another service will have to provide coverage."

He noted the service, a nonprofit organization, will likely be seeking a small amount of town funding to help pay for manning the ambulance. Public input is welcome, Birge said, adding neighboring towns of Searsmont and Palermo have recently struggled to staff volunteer ambulances as well. Searsmont is called if Liberty is unable respond.

"Their staffing problems are not unlike ours, so the call could be passed to Belfast instead," Birge wrote in an informational letter to citizens.

Liberty Volunteer Ambulance Assistant Chief and secretary Kathy Foley said response times — the amount of time it takes for an ambulance to reach a person seeking help — in town are currently good, in most cases less than 10 minutes. Foley works as a dispatcher and pointed out that volunteers are traveling from work or home in most cases.

"Volunteers are not sitting at the station," she said. "They have to come from far away."

According to the informational letter distributed by Birge, Liberty Volunteer Ambulance Service has been providing coverage for nearly 50 years. Due to the shortage of volunteers, other options are being considered.

"One option is to shut down Liberty Ambulance and let the towns hire an outside ambulance service to handle your needs," Birge said. "Another option we are looking into is to pay for a licensed EMT to be available during the day. This would be possible only if the two towns would be willing to pay for this and we could find people who are willing to do this. Some have shown interest in this but people are still needed."

According to the 2013 Annual Report, the ambulance service responded to 210 calls during the past year. The 2012 Annual Report lists the service as responding to 163 calls for assistance; it was also the first year Birge headed the service.

The issue of too few volunteers is not a new one. In 2012, volunteer Steve Chapin — now a selectman — addressed the problem with residents during town meeting. Funding for Liberty Volunteer Ambulance Service brought a plea for volunteers from Chapin, according to a previously published report. He said Montville EMTs responded to more calls in 2011 than Liberty EMTs — the first time that has ever happened.

"If we don't keep enough critical mass, we will go out of business," Chapin warned at the time.

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Stephanie Grinnell
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Stephanie is editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. She previously served as editor of Camden Herald following its return in April 2012.

Stephanie also was editor of VillageSoup's Capital Weekly in Augusta and has nearly a decade of experience in the newspaper business ranging from southern and central Maine to Waldo County.

Outside the office, she enjoys reading, cooking and gardening.

Stephanie lives in Washington with her husband Jeff, four children, a dog named Chewbacca, a rabbit and chickens.

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