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In a decision that would have made King Solomon proud, state and city officials have settled the fate of the Cambridge Rescue Squad's controversial diesel rescue van. Beginning next March, the city will have to replace the familiar outsized red van with a standard-sized ambulance that meets federal specifications, but it will be able to retain the old vehicle for back-up duty and use in special emergencies.
Mayor Alfred E. Vellucci said yesterday the decision to replace the van, which was reached after months of negotiations in the state legislature, is "a welcome to the city."
The purchase of a new ambulance, which could cost the city as much as $50,000, is "a good investment," he added.
A dispute over the old van arose in June when local citizens, including every member of the Harvard police force, protested a new state law that would have outlawed the rescue squad's van because it did not meet recently-established federal standards for rescue vehicles.
City officials maintained that it could not afford an ambulance that would meet the standards, which took effect on July 1. They threatened to disband the rescue squad--a 20-member division of the Cambridge Fire Department--if it could not retain the old van.
The City Council then unanimously passed a home-rule petition asking the state legislature to grant Cambridge an exemption from the new law.
State Rep. Thomas H.D. Mahoney, one of Cambridge's representatives in the Massachusetts House, said yesterday the decision to force the city to buy the new vehicle came as no surprise.
"There naturally had to be a compromise on it," Mahoney said.
City and state officials struck their bargain in early August and announced it late last month.
Public support for the van swelled when members of the City Council began to link its continued operation to the future of the entire rescue squad. The squad, formed over 40 years ago, is one of the oldest in the country.
Under the new agreement, the rescue squad will continue to function, although it will limit its operations to special emergencies where a standard ambulance would not be appropriate.
Francis J. Connelly, assistant chief of the Cambridge Fire Department, said yesterday the rescue squad, whose members all have undergone special paramedical and rescue training, now specializes in handling such extraordinary emergencies, rather than responding simply to fire calls.
Vellucci hailed the squad as "the finest rescue team in the United States," and added that the city is "willing to abide by whatever standards are set up, as long as we can keep our rescue squad."
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