MANCHESTER — It took months of negotiations, but the Northshire Rescue Squad and the City of Manchester have finally found an agreement and common ground moving forward.
The one-year deal, approved by a unanimous vote of the Manchester Select Board on Tuesday evening, also includes a memorandum of understanding between City and the team which sets out what Select Board chairman Ivan C. Beattie has described as “a roadmap” for the two sides to follow in pursuit of a longer-term deal next year.
The memo also creates a loose structure that promotes better communication between the city and the team, as well as regular collaboration on leadership events and between public safety agencies. This increased communication has already been evident at two community events in Manchester over the past month, City Manager John O’Keefe said.
Moreover, the possibility of Manchester forming their own rescue team has now been ruled out and should remain there if the partnership is successful, as both parties believe, Beattie said.
“There is an expressed desire to abide by the terms of this memorandum of understanding. And if things go well – which I expect – we will be able to put together a longer deal. If there are sticking points, there are opportunities to resolve them,” Beattie said.
“I don’t see a lot of opportunities for failure here. There’s a big commitment on both sides to make this work,” Beattie said in response to a question from former Select Board member Steven Nichols. “It’s not like we’re dealing with a new entity. We know each other. It took time for both sides to understand the intricacies of the other side’s position. We spent a lot of time on this. We feel like we understand Northshire Rescue Squad, and they understand us…we feel like we’re on the road.
Moira Spivey, who chairs Rescue Squad’s board of directors, said the agreement and memorandum of understanding are “just the first steps, but they’re important.”
“The Memorandum of Understanding sets the course for a future of continuous high-quality communication, collaboration and emergency services” for residents of the Five-City Service Area, Spivey said. “I am very proud of the work of the Northshire Rescue Squad and look forward to working closely with all of our towns to provide vital services to our friends and neighbours.”
The board discussed the deal at the start of its Tuesday meeting, pausing for executive session for about 15 minutes before returning to public session. Heidi Chamberlain moved and Jan Nolan seconded the motion to approve the proposal.
After answering questions from members of the public and discussing the deal, the board and O’Keefe shared handshakes with Rescue Squad Treasurer Jim Salsgiver and board members Linda O’Leary and Mike Alfano.
Salsgiver said he was delighted the council could now advise the other four towns it serves – Danby Dorset, Mount Tabor and part of Winhall – that it can go ahead with the one-year deal, with a view to a long-term pact around this time next year.
Rather than dealing with Manchester separately from the other four cities, the parties agreed to a one-year deal for the five cities. The memo states that talks between Manchester, the team and the other four cities will start in February.
“The stumbling block was getting the deal with Manchester, and now it feels good to have it all sorted out,” Salsgiver said. “We are very positive for the future.”
The protocol sets out the common goal of ensuring that the five cities in its service area have access to high-quality emergency services. To achieve this common goal, both parties are committed to achieving goals such as:
• collaborating on community health outreach, subject to staff availability, such as CPR training, blood pressure clinics, vaccinations and wellness check-ups;
• regular meetings between the boards of directors, management and staff to foster team spirit;
• increased participation on the Five City Rescue Squad Board of Directors;
• communicating issues and concerns “quickly and effectively”;
• Regular collaboration and planning sessions between the Rescue Squad and other public safety agencies in the city;
• and commit to finding creative solutions to financial issues that have been a source of contention in the past.
The accompanying emergency medical services agreement, between the Rescue Squad and the five towns it serves, sets Manchester’s share of the service charge for the 2023 financial year at $142,767. Charges from other towns are $32,510 for Dorset, $13,817 for Danby, $3,657 for Mount Tabor and $3,048 for Winhall (which it serves from the Manchester line to the Route 11-30 division).
It also sets the team’s rent at the Public Safety Complex at $43,000 a year and use of the Manchester Dispatch Center at $67,000 a year.
This agreement also stipulates that any city seeing to form its own rescue squad or hire a third party to operate one must give 270 days notice.
Nichols questioned whether the deal was discussed in executive session rather than in public, and said the way the city released the consultant’s report was an “embarrassment.” But Beattie defended the city on both fronts. The executive session discussions allowed the board to consider alternatives that ultimately became dead ends, he said; Broadcasting them in public would have been confusing to the community.
“I’m not embarrassed. I think we did all the right things,” Beattie said. “I think the Northshire Rescue Team did everything right. We have landed in a place where we are all ready to move in the same direction.