The Westerly Ambulance Corps, Inc.
The Westerly Ambulance Corps, Inc

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Focused on the future: Partnerships, new equipment carry Westerly Ambulance forward
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By By Jason Vallee Sun staff writer
May 6, 2024

WESTERLY — As the sun was shining down on staff at the Westerly Ambulance Corps on a calm Friday afternoon, Capt. Jeffrey Barker took the opportunity to clean off a 2023 Ford F-450 ambulance that the agency put into service late last year. In front of the building, Assistant Chief Michael Brancato had just finished testing a brand new 2023 Chevy 3500 ambulance that had just been delivered that morning.

There are still plenty of challenges remaining to continue positioning the corps for a strong financial future, Brancato admits, but the scene marked a stark difference from the start of last year when the impact of an ongoing pandemic, record-low returns on billables and contract negotiations had the agency facing a potential financial black hole.

“In 2023, we were still in the COVID recovery phase in many ways. Billable income was still down and we were trying to realign finances,” Brancato said. “We had stopped large purchases during COVID, and were strapped for money. Now we are coming through that.”

What a difference a year can make.

After coming to a contract agreement with its staff, Westerly Ambulance was able to use funds allocated from the town’s American Rescue Plan Act monies to replace two four-wheel ambulances with 2023 Ford F-450s.

The town’s generous allocation of $200,000 for operational needs, up from $100,000 from the previous year’s budget, and a special opportunity to purchase a vehicle at a reduced rate has also allowed the corps to purchase the Chevy 3500. The brand-new CityMedic vehicle, built by Wheeled Coach and purchased from Greenwood Emergency Vehicles of North Attleboro for $232,000, replaces a 2006 that had over 300,000 miles on it — and countless additional hours of idling.

The purchase cost the agency a fraction of the $375,000 to $400,000 that a new Ford F-450 four-wheel drive would have.

“The ambulance corps wanted to be fiscally responsible in getting a brand new vehicle, and we wanted to get ourselves in a position to be able to replace things in a more consistent and cost-efficient manner,” Brancato said.

For the agency, the purchases over the past year serve two purposes. The first, from an administrative standpoint, is that the corps is now on a more realistic and flexible timeline for future replacement needs, both Brancato and Barker said.

The corps has a total of 18 full-time licensed responders, 25 part-time licensed responders, 3 full-time and 8 part-time dispatchers, and operates at a $3 million budget annually. To continue to provide quality response, the two said that staff need access to regularly-changing equipment.

The agency has worked with partners including the Charlestown Ambulance Rescue Service to apply for grants, including working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in order to seek cost-effective replacements for aging lifepak monitors, more commonly known as defibrillators, LUCAS devices and CPR devices.

Brancato said the agency is also putting together a replacement plan for a 2017 Ford F-450 and will then need a longer plan for replacement of the 2019 Mercedes Sprinter. In addition, the agency has a 2016 Ford Expedition, known as Medic 1, which will be replaced around July, with a 2024 Chevy Tahoe already on order.

Barker said the effort to replace equipment shows an important commitment by the agency to provide first responders with the tools they need to do the job right.

“Updating the trucks and equipment is paramount so that we can keep up with the protocol changes, especially with the talks nationwide,” he said. “We are in a constantly changing and evolving industry, so we have to stay on top of everything otherwise we are going to fall behind.”

Brancato said that while the corps is now in a good position, there is still a lot of work to do moving forward to help it remain financially viable and stable. He said partnerships with local police, Westerly and Stonington officials and other agencies throughout the region will help them to find the way, however.

“When I first started, this was an almost all volunteer agency. So much has changed since I first began in 1992.” Brancato said. “We have entered a new age, one considerably different than when Dr. (Frank) Payne founded the agency in 1917.”

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The Westerly Ambulance Corps, Inc.
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Westerly, RI 02891
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