PEAKS ISLAND — Our houseguest joined me in the kitchen that Saturday morning, talked for a while, took one cup of the coffee I had given him, turned gray and fell on the floor.

He seemed limp and motionless. I could only imagine that he had suffered a heart attack or a stroke. But what did I know?

I’m not a doctor or an EMT, so I picked up our phone and dialed 911.

That’s what I expect anybody in my place might have done. However, we live on Peaks Island, which has no ambulance service. What happened instead?

The two police officers on duty received a message from their dispatcher, quickly returned to their station house, got out of their cruiser and got into the ambulance that’s parked in the same building. In less than two minutes they were on our street, ready to put on rubber gloves and carry their emergency medical kits into our home.

They were able to ascertain that his heart was beating properly — but clearly something was wrong. They put him on a stretcher and carried him out to the ambulance.

Meanwhile, the dispatcher had also signaled for a fast, small fireboat to come to Peaks. the time the ambulance drove down to the dock, the boat was ready to receive our friend and his wife.

Another ambulance in town met the boat, and the excellent staff at Maine Medical Center were able to fully evaluate our friend’s condition.

Had our call been for a fire, the same police would have made the same trip back to their station and driven the fire truck.

And if we had reported a disturbance — perhaps domestic violence, a robbery in progress or people drunk and out of control — having two police officers meant that they could work as a team, offering support and protection to each other.

The standard of protection that most Peaks Islanders want — and have been accustomed to having most of the time — is two police officers at all times, each triple-trained to be police, Emergency Medical Technician (at least “basic” level), and first-responder for fire.

There are times when there’s only one on duty, and that concerns us. But this model of two triple-trained police officers seems like a satisfactory emergency coverage plan.

Now, however, the city is proposing to replace one of the police officers with a firefighter, who would also be a trained EMT. That frightens me, and from the reaction at a recent community meeting with the city’s fire chief and a police captain, I believe I’m not alone.

The proposed change would leave us with only one police officer. The firefighter would not be allowed to help with unruly crowds, would not be able to provide any backup to ensure the officer’s safety, would not have any arrest authority. Also, a visible firefighter would not have any of the deterrent value of a police officer in uniform.

The city cites “call” statistics, suggesting that Peaks Island doesn’t need that much police presence. Indeed, having two officers means a higher officer- to-citizen ratio than in other parts of the city.

But dare we go down to just one officer, who would be working essentially alone? Also, much of the police activity comes from officers who know our community well, can spot potentially dangerous situations before they get out of hand and can deal directly with them.

This is community policing at its best — and it’s been working well on Peaks Island for years. Should we let it go?

We’ve been told that this is a cost-saving plan, but that logic escapes me. A police officer and firefighter should cost about as much as two police officers.

There have been suggestions that the police want to assign officers to other functions and that firefighters already in the marine division might be the ones covering Peaks.

In hard economic times, such as we’re experiencing now, trade-offs do need to be made. We may not be able to afford all the city services and programs to which we’ve become accustomed.

But I hope that economic difficulty doesn’t become an excuse to dismantle the basic safety staffing that is essential to giving Peaks Islanders, and the officers who work on our island, a reasonable measure of security.


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