Cavendish Fire Chief responds to EMS incident accusations

CAVENDISH, Vt. – The Cavendish Selectboard was again dealing with ongoing tension between the two fire departments in Proctorsville and Cavendish during their regularly scheduled meeting Monday, July 8. This meeting included a chance for acting Cavendish Chief Abraham Gross to respond to a statement made by Selectboard member Mike Ripley in last month’s meeting.

Ripley, who is a volunteer with the Ludlow Ambulance Service, made a statement regarding his concern over how the Cavendish Fire Department handled a “lift assist” call several months ago, saying that they dismissed Proctorsville assistance from the scene prematurely. Gross attended to answer Ripley’s statement with a prepared statement of his own. Responding to an emergency call, Ripley was not in attendance at this meeting.

Town Manager Brendan McNamara made it clear in his opening statement for this agenda item that issues relating to the fire departments were not the domain of the Selectboard and should be handled within the Prudential Committees of each fire district. Emergency medical services however are under the jurisdiction of the town, as was pointed out in a statement last month by board chair Robert Glidden, in his statement for an article in The Vermont Journal about last month’s meeting. McNamara was clear that all that would be discussed where the issues that were directed related to the EMS services in town only and asked everyone to be respectful.

Gross read from a prepared statement disputing what he termed were false accusations concerning the incident. He went on to say that he respected Ripley and felt that Ripley was trying to address the tension between the two departments. Gross agreed that he wanted improved communication between the two departments and decided to respond now to clear up the “ambiguity about what happened and why” surrounding the incident.

According to Gross, the lift assist patient is often in need of assistance and as a result, Gross had established a procedure with Ludlow ambulance two years ago for how best to assist. The procedure outlined that they would respond and handle the call if possible or wait for Ludlow Ambulance personnel if not. The night of the incident, Gross arrived separately from one other Cavendish volunteer who had reached out to PFD for assistance.

According to Gross, after assessing patient position and limited space available around the patient, as well as the personnel already on scene, he told the other CFD member that PFD was unnecessary because they would arrive after Ludlow Ambulance. “Our goal is to be as efficient as possible with limited resources, not to make a big show,” he said. Gross explained that somehow when this was relayed to Ludlow Ambulance, it was interpreted that the lift had been completed and Proctorsville got the message that CFD didn’t want their help. Gross admitted however, “I can see how this was interpreted negatively through the lens of Cavendish and Proctorsville’s history.” According to Gross, it was important for him to clarify his motives.

Even as Gross finished his statement that he was trying to figure out why PFD was upset, he then leveled a few accusations of his own at PDF, saying that numerous times CFD had been prevented and impeded from attending to medical patients by Proctorsville. Talking specifically about another incident, Gross continued, “It’s incredibly frustrating to have an emergency medical technician put on traffic control.” He also claimed that CFD personnel had been shouted at by PFD personnel when trying to treat a patient.

PFD Deputy Chief Bobby Glidden defended PFD from the floor, asserting that his department has highly trained medical personnel as well. He addressed the incident Gross spoke about during which CFD had been put on traffic control. He said that CFD had arrived 15 minutes after PFD and Ludlow Ambulance were already on scene, that all patients were being treated and loaded into the ambulance. “It’s not because we don’t want you to deal with someone,” he said. He expressed that patient safety is their priority.

Gross said that he was “eager to extend forgiveness for all past slights and wrongdoings” so both departments could work better together in future. He posed several questions to the Selectboard that led to the topic of establishing standards for how both departments work together on scene.

McNamara praised both departments for their commitment and said they had both hit on the right focus, which was patient care. He agreed that, despite the past, they needed to continue to get better and move forward. McNamara agreed that determining standards for emergency scene safety was a discussion they can have. “I would be the first person in line to help facilitate… the best service we can have for this town,” he said.

The next Cavendish Selectboard Meeting is Monday, Aug. 12 at 6:30 p.m.

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