Casco restructures rescue department

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — This New Year brings change to the local fire station — the predictable presence of rescue personnel.

Casco Rescue Department Chief, Holly Hancock, presented a new scheduling plan for the volunteer department — which would pay for two people to be at the station during the daytime hours.

The two-prong proposal would entice people who would normally be paid per emergency call — because there is a portion of the volunteer population that leaves the Casco department in favor of more dependable work, she said. The duties outlined for being at the station would evolve as the schedule is put into place, she said.

The rescheduling change also accommodates budgetary limitations, Hancock told the Casco Board of Selectmen.

“We had calculated this change to fit what is left in the budget,” Hancock said, following Tuesday night’s meeting.

“But a primary service is quicker response times. If there are people at the station, the truck rolls out of the station faster,” she said.

Another reason for the shift, which she had cited to the board, is the advantage of being relied on by neighboring fire and rescue departments once it is known that Casco’s station will be regularly staffed, she said.

Approximately two weeks ago, she heard on the scanner about a fire on Raymond Cape. She was at the station at the time, and heard dispatch call Windham for assistance. With the future change, the call would go to Casco also, she said.

During the meeting, Hancock talked to the board about a few concerns of the department. One was how to collect debts still outstanding for emergency services. The other issue was how to handle Maine Care recipients that routinely call for emergency assistance, while the state only covers $140 of the per-visit cost, she said. One individual made 14 emergency calls in a calendar year, she said.

She asked the board how the department should approach the issue on the state health coverage level.

“Is it possible to notify Maine Care that this is going on?” she asked. She added that the town would be well served with a policy to deal with these repeated incidences.

“At some point, we may very well request some policy for the town — to address people who are abusing the system,” Hancock told the board.

“This is costing the taxpayers a significant amount of money,” she said.

Later, Selectman Tracy Kimball asked whether the state or national level of emergency responders had a legal standard for how to handle such situations.

“It is sketchy territory. It may be a situation where we just have to deal with it,” Hancock said.

Selectman Ray Grant said he empathized.

“I know this happens, because I hear it on the scanner all the time. But, it is like the person calling wolf, they might be hurt that one time,” Grant said. “You could deny transport (to the hospital), but you have to respond.”

Hancock nodded.

“It’s not about us responding. It is about Maine Care, and that agency’s awareness that this is happening,” she said.

Grant suggested the town attorney be contacted to answer the questions raised by the rescue chief.

Prior to the discussion about potential abuse of the emergency services without sufficient coverage to pay, Hancock brought up debts owed to the department.

“It has been a bit of a challenge for me to say this: But, I don’t think all of these should be a write off because it is owed to the Town of Casco,” she said.

The town gives write-offs to its staff members. Once, their insurance is billed, the town covers the rest of the bill by writing it off “as a professional courtesy for the people who work on the fire or rescue department,” she said.

“There are still people who have outstanding balances to the Town of Casco. What I am looking for from you is how to deal with that,” Hancock said, directly addressing the selectmen.

“So, give me your thoughts on how to address that?” she asked.

Before selectmen could comment on the department dilemma, Town Manager Dave Morton spoke — advocating for adhering to the protocol of going by a policy, and not forgiving the balance owed based on the individual.

“My suggestion is to wait until you have a policy in place before talking up Holly’s invitation to look at the list,” Morton said.

“Do you want to send it to a collection agency? The collection agencies are the guys people hate. But, it can be an effective way to collect the money,” he said, adding, “It shouldn’t be put on one person’s shoulders — the rescue chief.”

Board members agreed that the best path was to adopt a policy for the handling overdue payment for emergency services. Also, selectmen suggested that the town manager compile ordinances from other towns.

The issue was put on the upcoming workshop, which will be Jan. 10.

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