Lebanon selectmen are reviewing response times for the Lebanon Rescue Department, which had a shake-up in staffing late last year.
Since two top rescue department officials resigned in December, some residents in the rural York County town have questioned the time it takes for the department to respond to emergency medical calls. Details about response times have not been released, but one town official said he is confident that the department and mutual aid responders from other communities are providing adequate coverage for Lebanon.
Rescue Chief Samantha Cole and her husband, Assistant Rescue Chief Jason Cole, resigned in December, saying they wanted to spend more time with their family. Jason Cole also stepped down from his seat on the Board of Selectmen.
The Coles left as their department’s finances and billing practices were being investigated by the town. Since the resignations, the town has been trying to recoup more than $200,000 in taxpayers’ money, which the department borrowed to cover its bills.
The leadership change led to concerns about response times for ambulances, which are staffed by volunteers from the rescue department.
Selectman Paul Philbrick, who was elected last week to replace Cole, said he is aware of concerns in the community but has not heard of anyone not getting the help they need. He said he has not been briefed by other selectmen on rescue department issues but it is something they have been working on “extensively.”
“I know there are some concerns about the response times. I heard that when I was out campaigning,” Philbrick said. “The mutual aid setup we have with other towns is very responsive. No one is not being served.”
Last week, selectmen received a verbal report on rescue calls and response times from Bill Tower, director of the Sanford Regional Communications Center, which dispatches calls for Lebanon. Tower would not provide that information to the Portland Press Herald and instead referred questions about it to Selectman Benjamin Thompson, who did not respond to calls for comment.
Interim Rescue Chief Ray Parent did not respond to email and telephone requests for comment. Selectman Karen Gerrish also did not respond to interview requests.
The Press Herald has filed public records requests with Lebanon selectmen and the regional dispatch center for details of rescue call response times in Lebanon.
Laura Shaw, a former member of the rescue department, said she thinks town officials must do something to address what she described as long waits for medical help.
Shaw, who joined the department after seeing rescue workers help her baby, said she was removed from the department by Parent in late December because she is a friend of the Coles.
“Now I’m petrified if anything happens to my kids, they’re not going to make it because they’ll have to wait and wait and wait, or not even get a response. As a resident, you’re supposed to rely on these people to help you and your family, and now you can’t,” she said. “People in town are getting frustrated, scared and nervous.”
North Berwick Assistant Rescue Chief Jeff Pelletier said his department is responding to more calls from Lebanon than usual, but that is to be expected when a department is in transition. He said North Berwick will continue to respond to rescue calls in Lebanon as needed.
Sanford Fire Chief Jeff Rowe said he told Lebanon officials “we’d support them in any way we could” during the rescue department’s transition.
“That hasn’t changed,” he said. “It’s one community helping another. They’d come help us if we called them.”
Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: