New ambulance arrives for Middlebury first responders

MIDDLEBURY — Officials at the ambulance service that operates in the Middlebury area are usually cool, calm and collected. It’s important for them to impart a composed demeanor when handling emergency medical situations.
But Teena Betourney, co-director of Middlebury Regional EMS (MREMS), makes no apologies for the pandemonium that broke out at the organization’s Middlebury headquarters last summer after fielding a phone call from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The person at the other end of the line confirmed that MREMS had been awarded a $125,000 federal grant to bankroll 90 percent of a new, desperately needed ambulance.
“I (yelled) ‘We got the grant!’” Betourney recalled. “We were jumping up and down and screaming.”
The grant required MREMS to come up with the remaining $15,000 to cover the total $140,000 price of the new ambulance. Fortunately, the organization had that sum handy, thanks to contributions area residents had made to an ambulance fund. MREMS recently took possession of the new vehicle, which will soon hit the road.
Another condition of the grant required MREMS to retire the 2006 vehicle the new ambulance is replacing. The old ambulance has logged around 144,000 miles and is perennially in need of repairs, Betourney explained. The suspension is shot, which has made for some painful rides for patients suffering from neck and back ailments. A recent exhaust leak was funneling noxious fumes into the cab. The ambulance is only equipped with front-wheel drive, which can make for some nerve-wracking travel during the winter, Betourney noted.
The new F530 model is more powerful, has great suspension and is four-wheel drive, according to Betourney. It has an automatic stretcher-mount system, which will make it easier on the crew and the patient. It has a separate chassis for the box and the cab.
Plans call for any useful equipment to be stripped from the old ambulance and sold, with revenue going into a “new ambulance” fund. The shell of the old ambulance will be used for training by local rescue officials.
While MREMS officials are pleased to be getting the new ambulance, they know that the other two vehicles in the fleet are close to the end of their useful lives. One of them is in and out of the garage a lot; the other has rust and other body deficiencies that are likely to prevent it from passing inspection within a year, according to Betourney.
Officials are applying for another FEMA grant, hoping MREMS will beat the odds and get funding for two years in a row. But Betourney realizes that MREMS will have to step up its fundraising in order to replace the two older ambulances in the near future. Eventually, MREMS officials would like to see the organization return to having a fleet of four ambulances. This would place less overall stress on the fleet and make sure MREMS is well equipped to handle multiple calls at the same time.
“There are days when we could use a fourth ambulance,” Betourney said.
“There is still a great need,” MREMS board Chairman David Pistilli stressed.
MREMS in 2014 responded to 2,200 calls for services in the 10 communities within its coverage area: Middlebury, Salisbury, New Haven, Ripton, Orwell, Shoreham, Whiting, Bridport, Cornwall and Weybridge. The organization is on pace to handle 2,500 calls this year, Betourney said. MREMS is staffed by 29 full- and part-time workers and 15 volunteers.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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