Ambulance director lauds department

WILTON – When you call an ambulance, you will get an ambulance.

“And it will be staffed by highly trained, professional people,” Wilton Ambulance Service Director Gary Zirpolo said.

“They’re not zombies,” he added, partly referring to occasional notices on the sign in front of the ambulance bay on Route 31, but mostly to recent published comments about the staff. “They are not overtired or overworked.”

Yes, he could use a few more people, but so could all of the area services, Zirpolo said.

“There just aren’t enough EMTs to go around,” he said. “Everyone here works at least two other jobs.”

But in Wilton they are on-call positions, each person working only a few shifts each month.

The town currently has eight paramedics; 12 EMTs or Advanced EMTs; four nonmedical people, who have completed the training but not yet taken the state licensing tests; three people who will be taking classes this spring; and one apprentice, who will start the training when he is 18. Zirpolo is the only full-time member.

Since Wilton is the lowest paying service in the area, “This is not a priority job for them,” he said.

“We take people who have no experience,” Zirpolo said, “teach them to drive the ambulance and put them through the training. They give us a year. I think that’s been successful.”

And the town has mutual aid.

“Not every department needs all of the specialized equipment,” he said. “We can cover each other (in emergencies) and with staffing issues,” as when another ambulance is needed.

“We have helped other towns roughly 45 times this year,” Zirpolo said.

There is, of course, that rare event that calls out all of the area’s ambulances at once.

The Wilton service made about 500 calls in 2016, up about 5 percent over the last five years.

“Could I use more people?” he asked. “Yes. With more people, I wouldn’t be on call so much. But we’re covering, the ambulance goes out, and we’re not sacrificing patient care.”

Nor is the ambulance building as bad as has been depicted, including by some selectmen, Zirpolo said.

“It’s not the Taj Mahl,” Zirpolo said, “but I resent it being called a toilet.”

The building was purchased in the 1980s by the Ambulance Association and has been undergoing renovations since.

“It has served its purpose, and is in a good place to serve the three towns – Wilton, Lyndeborough and Temple,” he said. “It does need some work, some upgrading,” that should have been done 20 years ago, but as far as Zirpolo knew, it was up to current codes.

“We put in the alarm system,” he said, and made improvements to fire walls, and there is heat in the garage.

“We are meeting with our insurance to see if there is more we need to do.,” Zirpolo said.

Current plans include removing an interior wall and replacing it with an island, which would improve space and air flow, and provide more cabinet space. The work will be done by volunteers.

Work on the building can be problematical, Zirpolo said, because although the ambulance service is now a town department, the building is still owned by the Ambulance Association. The service came under the Wilton umbrella several years ago mostly for insurance purposes.

Zirpolo’s proposed budget for 2017 is “maybe up 1 or 2 percent,” he said. “Operating costs are up 5 percent, staffing is up 10 percent, and most is offset by insurance payments.”

A new salary scale has been put in place to raise payments over the next two years, “bring us up to somewhere in the middle” of what is paid in the region, he said.

There has been discussion, Zirpolo said, for the third time since he has been on the service, about combining the ambulance and fire departments at the new fire station.

He said he was not wholly opposed, “and if they want to put together a study committee, I’ll help all I can.”

Zirpolo did see a few problems, however.

“The bays aren’t deep enough to park two ambulances, one behind the other, so we would need two bays,” he said. “And all of them are filled with fire trucks.

The fire station would also need some remodeling because of the needs of the ambulance service and the need to keep their quarters warm because of medications.

“And then there is the response time. Moving downtown would add 2 miles to the run.”

The current location is a good spot with plenty of room out back to expand, Zirpolo added, if that is needed in the next 10 years or so.

Zirpolo would like more people, but “people don’t have time to volunteer anymore,” he said. “Everybody is working two jobs.”

In the meantime, as always, if you call, they will respond. Quickly.