Father and son Bob DiLuzio Sr. and Rob Jr. of the Keene-based DiLuzio Ambulance Service are seen in this file photo from 2017. Cheshire County announced Thursday that it plans to acquire the private ambulance service.

Cheshire County plans to buy DiLuzio Ambulance Service in Keene, officials announced Thursday night.

The purchase comes after years of discussions among county officials and local fire departments and emergency services about the costs and personnel shortages that have long been a struggle, the county said in a news release.

“It’s going to be great,” Bob DiLuzio Sr., co-owner of the ambulance service, said in an interview Thursday night. “[Cheshire County] can offer more than we can because the fact is, it’s very hard to find qualified people. The pay is not spectacular, [so] these people are devoted people.”

County Administrator Chris Coates said in an email that while the county is not immune to the same staffing challenges, “the county does have more resources to be somewhat more competitive. The County’s benefits and opportunities for participation in a retirement plan are generally better than the broader market.”

Coates said nearly all of the funding to purchase the DiLuzio assets, which include its contracts with local towns, will come from the federal government.

The purchase price has not been disclosed while the plans are under review by government officials and documents are finalized, according to the release.

Talks between the county and the private emergency medical service — owned by the DiLuzio family since 1975 — have been ongoing since January, with hopes of completing the transaction by 2022, according to the news release.

Bob DiLuzio, who owns the company with his wife, Linda, said the county approached him about selling. And after 60 years in the business, coupled with the toll of working through the COVID-19 pandemic, they agreed.

“... One of the primary reasons the County is undertaking this purchase is that it is simply time for the DiLuzios to retire from this public service ... and closing the agency was not an option,” Coates said.

The sale would turn DiLuzio into a public entity, as a department of the Cheshire County government. The private ambulance service is the primary ambulance for a number of area towns and contracts with others to provide backup to their emergency medical services.

Coates said the benefits to the ambulance’s becoming a government-owned entity are access to state and federal grants, the resources to borrow for capital purchases and to tolerate the payment cycles from insurance companies, and the ability to offer enhanced benefits.

“As to the problems, certainly the County will be dealing with the labor shortage that we are seeing both locally and nationally. It will also be addressing the real estate situation as ultimately the County will need to find a new location(s) out of which we will operate the services.”

The towns with DiLuzio contracts are Alstead, Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Harrisville, Marlborough, Marlow, Richmond, Stoddard, Sullivan, Swanzey, Troy, Walpole and Winchester, and the company also acts as backup for Keene, which contracts to provide services for other towns, Coates said. Those contracts will be honored until their expiration or renewal dates, he said.

“It is likely that, as with all contracts involving substantial labor and benefits, costs will increase. Most if not all of the contracted communities have been anticipating an increase and some of those discussions have already begun,” Coates said.

Once the transaction is complete, DiLuzio Sr. said all staff will need to reapply for their jobs, but they will all be offered employment.

“It’s strictly a technical issue. Everyone will be offered their job, and because of the legality ... on the day of the closing, they no longer work for DiLuzio,” he said. “ ... They have to be hired by the county.”

The county posted an announcement on its website Thursday that it’s holding job fairs on Tuesday, Nov. 16, and Thursday, Nov. 18, to hire EMTs, AEMTs and paramedics for the new service.

This article has been updated to include additional details from Cheshire County and Bob DiLuzio Sr.

Olivia Belanger can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or obelanger@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @OBelangerKS.