Milford Fire Department's utility truck parked in front of the station September 3, 2021. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

An increase in emergency calls that’s left Old Town’s ambulance crews stretched thin has neighboring Milford taking steps to acquire and staff an ambulance of its own to provide faster service on its side of the Penobscot River.

Currently, the Milford Fire Department has emergency medical technicians on staff who can stabilize someone in a medical emergency. But they can’t take patients to the hospital, Milford Fire Chief Josh Mailman said.

The town relies on ambulances from neighboring Old Town to do that. But an increase in calls in the area has often meant that Old Town ambulances aren’t available to take Milford patients to the hospital. As a result, those patients have to wait for ambulances to arrive from farther-away fire departments, Mailman said.

“We’re seeing an average of, once every three weeks, an ambulance coming from Orono, Bangor and, in a couple of cases, Brewer,” he said. “So we’re having long delays in some instances.”

Milford is negotiating an agreement that would allow the town to buy an ambulance from Old Town. The Milford Fire Department would staff that ambulance, provide basic life support and take patients to the hospital when needed. Old Town ambulance crews would still be required to provide more serious intervention, including when emergency crews need to administer medications, Mailman said.

In addition to providing faster service to Milford residents, Mailman said the town could likely save money from the new arrangement.

Milford currently pays Old Town $81,000 a year to transport patients to the hospital, so the towns are looking at whether Milford will need to continue paying for Old Town’s services at all or simply pay the city less, Mailman said.

Mailman estimates that Milford can save $40,000 to $50,000 a year under the new arrangement.

“We’re not trying to get rich. We know you don’t make money with an ambulance service,” he said. But, “if we can alleviate this problem that’s been there for a little while, we’re happy to help.”

At first, Milford was looking to purchase a brand new ambulance, but a new ambulance can cost anywhere between $200,000 to $300,000, Mailman said. Buying the ambulance from Old Town would be cheaper, he said.

The town still has a number of hoops to jump through before it can finalize the arrangement. Its fire department, for one, would require new licenses to run an ambulance, and the license changes would require two public hearings and a special town meeting.

Mailman asked Milford’s select board Tuesday to start scheduling those public hearings.

Milford and Old Town also need to continue ironing out the specifics so the new arrangement can take effect in early 2022, Mailman said.

Old Town City Manager Bill Mayo said the city is waiting on Milford before taking next steps.

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Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is a reporter covering Old Town, Orono and the surrounding areas. A recent graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he's worked for Vermont Public Radio, The...