Fire Officials Grapple With Medical Radio Funding

Elected representatives and fire chiefs from the town of Barnstable’s five fire districts met Wednesday night with Barnstable County Sheriff James M. Cummings to discuss funding for the Centralized Medical Emergency Dispatch system, commonly known as CMED.

Wednesday’s meeting was held at the Centerville headquarters of the Centerville-Osterville-Marstons Mills Fire District.

The CMED system, which covers the Cape, the Vineyard and several off-Cape towns, provides specialized radio communications connecting regional hospitals, ambulance services and first responders, in addition to other functions.

The system’s budget for the current fiscal year is $453,492.In a July 25 letter to the fire districts, Sheriff Cummings wrote that he previously has been able to cover the cost of the system within his operational budget.

“With continued reductions in our budget, this is no longer the case,” he wrote.

To that end, starting last Saturday, he began charging a fee of $6.53 to receiving hospitals and to ambulance providers for each call patched through the CMED system.

Fire officials at Wednesday’s meeting expressed concern and questions about the sheriff’s plan.

One general concern covered the timing of the July notice and the start-up of billing.

The fire districts already have approved their operating budgets for the current fiscal year.

Now districts are looking at possible unanticipated expenses. The patch fees for the Hyannis Fire District could come to about $30,000.

The fees for Centerville-Osterville-Marstons Mills could total $28,000.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the sheriff indicated a willingness to work with fire districts that cannot pay immediately.

“I just want to make it through my fiscal year,” he said.“I haven’t heard any towns saying, ‘We’re not paying,’” he said.

But a number of fire officials, such as commissioners Paul R. Sullivan and Joseph Chilli of the Hyannis Fire District, questioned whether their districts should be legally responsible to pay the fees.

On the other hand, James H. Crocker Jr., a member of the C-O-MM Prudential Committee, said the CMED service was worth the money.

Van Northcross, a member of the West Barnstable Prudential Committee who also is regional marketing director for Cape Cod Healthcare, said Cape Cod Healthcare has commissioned an independent audit of the sheriff’s CMED operation.

“We’re going to have a lot more information once the audit is completed,” Mr. Northcross said. “…We need to know what the true cost is. We need a permanent fix to this CMED question.”

“We have to make this function, and not be a drain on everybody’s budget,” he said.

West Barnstable Fire Chief Joseph Maruca raised the specter of the patch fees climbing in the future with no say in the matter by the fire districts.

“Are we more [like] customers, or are we a partner?” he asked.

Mr. Sullivan, chairman of the Hyannis Fire District commissioners, said he anticipates that the town’s five fire districts will continue to work together on the CMED funding issue.

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