BRISTOL — The Bristol Rescue Squad is postponing its plan to hire a full-time employee, hoping instead that an influx of new volunteers after a Town Meeting Day plea to five-towns residents will help the struggling volunteer ambulance corps limp along.
The squad initially planned to hire its first ever paid employee after the volunteer ranks proved inadequate to handle many incoming emergency calls for assistance.
The move would have required each of the five towns that the Bristol squad serves — Bristol, New Haven, Lincoln, Starksboro and Monkton — to allocate additional funding at this year’s annual town meetings to cover the salary of a new employee.
“I’m asking for money at the worst economic time in the world, that I’ve seen at least,” said rescue squad president Brian Fox in December. “I don’t think (towns) are thrilled or happy about it, but I think they understand why I’m asking, and the need that we’re asking for. It’s not just a frivolous request. You never know who is going to have to call for an ambulance.”
That plan was put on hold, though, after the squad failed to get its increased funding request on New Haven’s ballot in time for the Town Meeting Day vote. Rather than unfairly ask the other four towns for increased funding, the squad decided to voluntarily amend its funding requests on the floor of each town meeting to reflect level-funded allocations: $4,000 in every town except Bristol, which traditionally sets aside $7,500 for the squad.
Now, without extra funding, the Bristol Rescue Squad is calling on residents in the five towns for help of another sort: manpower.
Even with some volunteers putting in multiple 12-hour shifts each week, the squad occasionally has to call on more heavily staffed ambulance associations in Vergennes and Middlebury to pick up the slack. That is true particularly during the workweek, when many of the Bristol squad’s volunteers are at jobs in other towns.
Fox told Bristol residents at the town’s annual meeting on March 1 that the squad is down to just more than 20 volunteers. Fox, the longtime president of the organization, last felt confident that the squad was fully staffed when the roster topped 40 members.
In every town but Bristol, voters approved the level-funded appropriation. In the ambulance squad’s home town, though, voters on March 1 rejected Fox’s proposed amendment to reduce the allocation, instead rallying to set aside a full $15,000 for the ambulance corps.
“It was really nice to see that the community to stand behind us when we need it,” Fox said.
Half of that money will be placed in a CD and earmarked for an eventual staff position, which Fox said seems inevitable. The squad is the only remaining ambulance corps in Addison County entirely staffed by volunteers. With volunteerism down across the board, and with more and more residents gone to work in larger towns, Fox said it’s hard to keep the roster full.
In the wake of the town meeting, the squad has already received seven applications for new volunteers, five of which have come from Bristol. Fox is excited about the prospect of new volunteers, but said that even seven won’t solve the squad’s big picture problems.
“(Hiring someone) is going to happen sooner or later. Seven members is great, but we really need 20,” Fox said. “This is going to help tremendously, but it’s not going to solve the issues.”
That’s the message Fox brought to voters in Bristol last week. Warm bodies are much appreciated, but if the five-towns area wants to be confident an ambulance will be available in an emergency, residents will need to drum up something else: money.
Reporter Kathryn Flagg is at email@example.com.