Participants in a mock disaster drill load a pretend victim into an ambulance in Bangor in this June 2013 file photo. The Ellsworth City Council has agreed to let a Bangor-based emergency medical response service to house two ambulances in the the Ellsworth Fire Station for the winter while it considers options for the futureof ambulance services in the Ellsworth area. Credit: Kevin Bennett

ELLSWORTH, Maine — The City Council agreed in principle Monday night to allow a Bangor-based ambulance service to house two vehicles in the city’s fire station for the next nine months.

The temporary arrangement will allow Northern Light Medical Transport, formerly known as Capital Ambulance, to better ease into providing emergency medical response services in the Ellsworth area, officials said.

The ambulance service has been responding to emergency medical calls in Ellsworth and surrounding towns since the end of August, when Ellsworth-based County Ambulance abruptly shut its doors. The city has considered whether it should initiate its own ambulance service but wants more time to determine if residents want the city to expand its emergency response services to medical calls.

[See all Hancock County coverage here]

The city hopes to hold a public meeting sometime next month to solicit feedback on the topic.

In the meantime, allowing Northern Light to house two ambulances at the city’s fire station in the basement of City Hall will protect the vehicles from prolonged winter exposure and help ensure that ambulance service remains available to Ellsworth residents.

Joe Kellner, vice president of emergency services for Northern Light, told councilors the company still is trying to get a handle on what it would cost to establish its own base of operations in Ellsworth and what kind of revenue it can expect from offering ambulance services in the area.

[Demand for ambulance services spikes in Ellsworth]

Some Hancock County towns that had response arrangements with County Ambulance — specifically Gouldsboro and Winter Harbor — have opted to establish their own ambulance service instead of contracting with Northern Light, he said.

“This is not a lucrative business to be in,” Kellner said, referring to regulations that limit how much, and for what kind of response, Northern Light can charge for its services.

A short-term lease agreement with the city “gives us time to sit down and look at the future of EMS service in the Ellsworth area,” he added.

[Hancock County to lose its ambulance service as Bangor service takes over]

He said that so far, about 44 percent of the calls Northern Light has responded to in Hancock County have been to Ellsworth addresses — including one specific address (which he did not identify) that has accounted for roughly 8 percent of its calls. He said the spaces in Ellsworth that Northern Light has looked at so far for potential long-term lease agreements all would require fairly significant renovations to house their operations.

Several councilors spoke in support of the temporary arrangement but noted that details will have to be worked out before the ambulance service moves in for the winter. Some fire department equipment will have to be stored elsewhere, which Northern Light will pay for, and the city will have to make sure its insurer is on board.

[Ellsworth ambulance service agrees to pay feds $17K to settle false reimbursement case]

The parties agreed that the sooner they work out the details for the temporary arrangement, the better.

“There is overwhelming support for having ambulance service available [in Ellsworth],” Councilor Dale Hamilton said of feedback he has received from local residents since County Ambulance shut down.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....