Watertown residents will soon be getting faster ambulance service, thanks in part to the permanent addition of four member of the Watertown Fire Department.
Fire Chief Mario Orangio thanked Town Manager Michael Driscoll and the Town Council Tuesday night for adding the salaries of four firefighters into the town budget after they had been paid for by the federal SAFER grant for two years.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart for bringing on the SAFER hires,” Orangio said. “You have heard me the past few years saying how important it is to increase staffing. It will make a difference to the services we provide.”
Watertown now has 10 firefighters trained as paramedics, and Orangio said two more are “on the precipice” of being hired. That will give the Watertown Fire Department enough people to run an Advanced Life Service ambulance. Orangio said the department is nearly ready to provide its own paramedic care.
“We have to work out an agreement with a partner so we have ALS backup, and the final step is to get a license from the state,” Orangio said.
That can take up to 6 months, but Orangio said he expects Watertown to have ALS ambulance service sometime during 2016.
Currently, the town contracts ALS service to Armstrong Ambulance, a private provider. Watertown provides Basic Life Support (BLS) right now. With ALS, firefighters will be able to administer medications and do invasive procedures, such as an intubation for someone who cannot breathe, Orangio said.
When the Fire Department gets a call that requires ALS, currently, Watertown sends its BLS ambulance, and Armstrong responds for ALS support. If the WFD Rescue gets there first it will start heading for the hospital, if needed, and the ALS will try to catch up.
Sometimes this means stopping midway and the Armstrong paramedics getting into the Rescue to help the patient, Orangio said. Other times they just follow all the way to the hospital.
The current average response time for Armstrong, which comes from Waltham, is 7 minutes 26 seconds, but Orangio said that time will be much quicker with a Watertown Fire ambulance responding.
Orangio also told the Town Council that they town has a rating of 3 on the Insurance Services Office rating. A high ranking will lower homeowners’ insurance rates, Orangio said.
The rankings go from 1-10 – with 1 being top – and are scored from 0-105.5.
“Watertown got a 78.06, and got a Class 3 rating,” Orangio said. “Class 2 is 80-89.9, so we just missed.”
Watertown can improve by increasing staffing, and by improving its education of the public. Most of the education program was cut when the staffing was reduced several years ago, but Orangio plans to start programs for kids and adults.
Town Council President Mark Sideris thanked Orangio and his firefighters for their work, even during the difficult times when they did not have a contract.
“Thank you for your work you do. You don’t hear that enough, and we don’t say that enough,” Sideris said. “You continue to challenge the department and you continue to meet the challenge.”
Orangio said he cannot take credit for the Fire Department’s work.
“They challenges I give them are challenges they come to me with,” Orangio said. “They are real pros. They make me look good.”