Old Town Fire and Rescue can now respond to medical emergencies by helicopter.
A Maine Forest Service helicopter is shown in 2020. Old Town Fire and Rescue has secured a license that allows its paramedics to respond to emergencies by air, as the Maine Forest Service often calls on the city's paramedics to accompany its rangers on emergency calls it responds to by helicopter. Credit: Courtesy of the Maine Forest Service

Old Town Fire and Rescue can respond to emergency medical calls by helicopter if the circumstances demand it.

The rescue agency is now among just a few in Maine with a special state license that allows it to respond to emergencies using aircraft. Old Town will be the only rescue squad in Penobscot County with that license.

Old Town doesn’t plan on purchasing a helicopter to add to its ambulances and fire trucks, especially as the city and the surrounding towns it serves face increasing costs to maintain what is effectively a regional ambulance service.

Rather, the city upgraded its license because the Maine Forest Service, whose air operations are based at Old Town’s municipal airport, frequently calls on Old Town’s paramedics to accompany its rangers in a helicopter to rescue injured hikers, City Manager Bill Mayo said.

The license change ensures that Old Town is operating correctly within Maine’s parameters for emergency medical services, Mayo said.

The specific license type Old Town has obtained — Restricted Response Air Ambulance Service — has historically been reserved for island communities that would need to move patients to the mainland using private aircraft, said Shannon Moss, a spokesperson for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

Old Town is one of the few communities north of Bangor with an ambulance service, and it covers 300 square miles. It has contracts to serve Argyle, Alton, Bradley, Greenbush, Greenfield and the Penobscot Nation.

Old Town has added the license at a time when the communities it serves recently saw a spike in the cost of their ambulance services, prompting discussions about a regional ambulance service.

Bradley, for example, is paying $88,125 for ambulance services for its 1,500 residents this fiscal year, which started July 1. That’s up more than 100 percent from last year’s cost of $40,207.

The increase resulted from Old Town adding staff for another shift and its inability to fully recoup costs from patients’ insurers and past debts from those they’ve taken to the hospital.

Sawyer Loftus is an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News. A graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he worked for Vermont Public Radio, The Burlington Free Press...