Hermon Volunteer Rescue & First Aid Squad INC. on Billings Road Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Hermon town councilors voted unanimously Thursday to end its contract with Hermon Volunteer Rescue & First Aid Squad Inc. effective on June 30, and to contract with Northern Light Medical Transport for ambulance service.

Councilors and the town attorney have been discussing changes to the contract in executive sessions since January when the council passed a resolution to amend the agreement by requiring three months rather than six months notice to terminate it.

G. Stephen Watson, the head of the rescue squad’s board of directors and a Hermon town councilor, recused himself from those executive sessions. He did not vote on the resolve to end the contract and declined to comment on the council’s decision after the meeting adjourned.

Councilor Derek Wood was absent Thursday.

To serve the growing town’s needs, four full-time advanced emergency medical technicians will be hired by the fire department to provide 24/7 staffing, Fire Chief Cody Sullivan. That will improve the level of care that first responders can provide and increase response time, he said.

That would cost $215,000 in addition to the nearly $300,000 budgeted for ambulance service, Sullivan said.

It was unclear Thursday if the rescue squad could survive financially without the contract with the town, but Watson said after the meeting that it had operated for more than four decades without municipal funding.

“We survived 44 years without any help from the town,” he said.

If the rescue squad is able to continue operations, Hermon residents who need an ambulance could request that it respond rather than a Northern Light ambulance.

Chairperson Steven Thomas said Thursday that over the past several years complaints about the ambulance service have increased. Those complaints included forcing patients to walk to an ambulance, performing tests a squad member was not qualified to perform, failure to administer tests to a patient actively seizing and to administer oxygen and failing to be available for calls that had to be handled by other agencies.

“The town of Hermon has experienced tremendous growth over the past decade with a dynamic business community, sprawling residential subdivisions and requisite educational system,” Thomas said in a statement read at Thursday’s meeting. “Our needs have evolved and become more complex. Unfortunately, Hermon Rescue is not meeting the demands from our community.”

Thomas also said that the Maine Attorney General’s Office is investigating the service. A spokesperson for Attorney General Aaron Frey has declined to comment on whether it is investigating the ambulance service.

Kevan Byers, a 40-year veteran of the ambulance service, urged the council to reconsider its decision to end the contract with Hermon rescue. He said that the ambulance service has a unique place in the town.

The town in 2015 signed a 10-year contract with the squad to provide ambulance services in Hermon. The contract gave town officials no control over the service or its board, even though the town funds a majority of the squad’s budget.

The overhaul of the contract was prompted by a wrongful death claim filed in November and the alleged investigation by the attorney general’s office. It is the first claim filed against the rescue service.

Tyson MacArthur, 34, died Sept. 4, 2021, at his sister’s home in Hermon of acute fentanyl intoxication, the claim said. A notice of claim is the first step in the filing of a lawsuit.

Veronica MacArthur, 29, of Hermon filed the claim against the ambulance service; the town of Hermon, which funds the squad; and Clarence J. Merchant II, 47, of Hampden, a former emergency medical technician for the Hermon rescue service. Merchant lost his EMT license when it came to light that he had lied about his criminal history.

MacArthur is seeking $1 million in compensatory and punitive damages and an undisclosed amount for Merchant’s alleged falsification of the call record.

The town budgeted $210,000 annually for the organization from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2022, after several years of not subsidizing the service. This year, the town increased funding to nearly $300,000.

Discussions over merging the nonprofit ambulance service with the fire department have taken place periodically over the past three decades.

In 2011, the council voted to incorporate emergency medical services under the town fire department. But councilors and squad members later hammered out their differences with the help of a facilitator after residents made it clear they favored keeping the independent ambulance service.

During the annual town meeting in June 2011, residents voted to remove contingency funding for an ambulance service from the fire department’s budget.

The nonprofit was founded in 1968, according to its website. The first few years it operated out of a local barn and used a retrofitted hearse as an ambulance. Over the next 15 years, the squad worked out of the fire station and the town’s historic one-room schoolhouse.

About 30 years ago, the service constructed its building at its current location. It had two bays, some office space, a bedroom, training room, restroom and kitchen facilities. The building was expanded in 2014 when a $350,000 addition doubled its size, adding two more bays, office space, a second bedroom and a training room.