PROVINCETOWN — As word spread that the Lower Cape Ambulance Association (LCAA) would close in a few months, requiring Truro and Provincetown to hire two dozen medics, so did worry — and not just among residents of the outermost towns who face an hour’s drive to the nearest hospital.
Seventeen of the 21 paramedics and EMTs who work for LCAA signed and sent a letter dated Jan. 18 to the Provincetown Select Board. It outlined their concerns about the recently announced plan to shutter LCAA and replace the service with eight new paramedics in Truro and eight firefighter-medics in Provincetown, plus eight returning summer rescue squad medics by July 1.
The transition plan, according to the letter’s author, LCAA paramedic Patrick O’Neil, will leave Provincetown badly understaffed in 2023, with only two ambulance crews per shift in the height of summer.
“We usually have four ambulances, and we are busy,” he said.
O’Neil wondered how Provincetown would be able to hire eight paramedics with firefighting certifications in such a short time. He also asked how Provincetown could expect former LCAA medics — who lack firefighting certification — to work the summer and shoulder seasons without benefits.
As it stands now, Provincetown’s seasonal rescue squad is made up of LCAA employees who pull 80-hour weeks working for Provincetown seasonally in addition to doing their year-round jobs for LCAA. Those leaving LCAA could be hired into full-time positions in a minute elsewhere since there is a shortage of paramedics across the Cape, he said.
O’Neil said that if Provincetown’s consultant, Norman Sylvester, who came up with the transition plan, “is counting on former LCAA personnel working the summer standby positions without the guarantee of full-time employment and benefits, then this town may find itself in the same position every single fire department on this peninsula finds itself in right now: grossly understaffed.”
In life-or-death situations, experience matters, O’Neil told the Independent. Without LCAA paramedics, he said, the Outer Cape will lose valuable experience.
Truro has been trying to hire four medics for months, with no success. The town wants to hire an additional four in the next year. None of the LCAA staff have applied for those jobs, said Truro Town Manager Darrin Tangeman.
O’Neil said Truro is not as desirable a place to work as Provincetown. “All I will say about that on the record is that the department does not have a good reputation,” O’Neil said of Truro.
Truro Fire Chief Tim Collins said, “Everyone is entitled to their opinion — that is all I am going to say on that.”
On Jan. 23, Provincetown Fire Chief Mike Trovato and Town Manager Alex Morse presented an updated plan to the select board. It honors the requests of the LCAA staff.
“We need them,” Trovato said. “There’s a shortage of paramedics and EMTs. So, we sat down and we realized that this is going to be a three-to-five-year process. The people that we have, we need to keep them.”
Trovato said he now wants to hire 16 people in 2023, including as many as he can from LCAA. He says he is prepared to provide year-round benefits — even for those who do not want to be firefighters, as is the case with O’Neil. Trovato said he would be able to build the firefighting side of the department slowly, as long as the medical side is fully covered.
“I want a one-word answer,” select board member John Golden said to Trovato on Jan. 23. “Are you confident that we’re going to be okay this summer with that plan?”
“I am confident,” Trovato said.
On Jan. 24, O’Neil said he was heartened by Trovato’s and Morse’s new plan. “It is much better than what I heard just a few days ago,” he said. “I am pleased.”
Stan Sikorski told the select board he hopes the transition from LCAA to town EMS departments will be seamless. In 2020, he said, “My heart stopped, and six minutes later the rescue squad showed up and took over CPR from my wife and daughter. This is very critical.”