An ugly battle is breaking out in one of the prettiest parts of Connecticut and some say public safety is at stake. The town of Morris sees an influx of visitors to Bantam Lake around this time of year and right now, there is no EMS service based in the town.
Right now, the town is relying on a private service for half the day and volunteers from Bantam and Litchfield for the other half. It's gotten to this point because the town of Morris and the volunteer firefighters can't come to terms on a new contract.
“This is where our ambulance was parked up until May 2,” Morris Volunteer Fire Audra Cast said.
There's no ambulance at the Morris firehouse and all the EMS supplies volunteers would take on medical calls are also missing.
“This is where everything was stocked and inventoried, but it's now bare,” Cast said.
The cupboards are bare because the volunteers gave up their state sanctioned ability to provide this type of care while engaging in tense contract talks with First Selectman Tom Weik and the town of Morris.
During its ten-year contract, according to the volunteer fire department, things were harmonious in town. Because firefighters and EMS crews worked day jobs, the private company Vintech would hold down the fort from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. The volunteers would cover the rest of the day and the weekends.
Historically, the town paid the entire Vintech bill. However, the volunteers would reimburse the town $60,000. Money they earned from billing patients for medical care and ambulance transports. When re-negotiations started, the town told Eyewitness News they wanted to keep things the same.
“The agreement worked well for 10 years,” Weik said. “I don't see why it wouldn't work well for the next 10 years.”
So they wanted to make that official and in the budget, the town reduced their contribution to Vintech by $60,000. That would force the volunteers to make the same contributions they always made.
Volunteers said they aren’t on board with that because they would be on the hook if costs went over or if there weren’t enough calls to make that much money.
“We didn't have the ability to recoup and make up that difference,” Cast said.
The volunteers said they felt backed into a corner and voluntarily surrendered their ability to be a primary service area responder. That rendered the ambulance and the EMS equipment useless, so Weik said he went in, loaded the ambulance up and drove it right out of the firehouse.
“It can be used by Litchfield and Bantam as a backup vehicle,” Weik said.
Volunteers said they didn't know Weik would take it that far because they say prior to surrendering their ability to respond, Weik wouldn't detail the consequences that would come from that move.
Right now, the town still pays Vintech for their private services for 12 hours while volunteers from Bantam and Litchfield are doing what the crews in Morris used to do. Weik said even though locals aren't covering the town, it doesn't come as an additional cost to the taxpayers.
“Nothing extra, we actually hope it's going to cost us less,” Weik said.
But, this agreement won't last forever and while both sides say they are willing to negotiate, Weik said the volunteers rejected the last proposal even though he says, they were the ones to submit it.
“We were in agreement with their proposal,” Weik said. “But they brought it back to their membership and the membership decided they did not want to move forward with that proposal.”
Volunteers said response times are delayed five minutes or more, while Weik said there haven't been any delays in the three weeks.
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