Aulander Rescue Squad saga continues

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 25, 2004

AULANDER – In a follow-up meeting to the one held here last month, concerned citizens gathered once again at the Aulander Community Building in search of a solution to the rescue squad dilemma.

With nearly 130 people in attendance, moderator Bubba Peele set the stage for the discussion. Speaking directly to the group, he stated, &uot;Your presence is a testimony of how vital the rescue squad is to our community.&uot;

Citing an example of the impact the rescue squad, Peele explained that while he was serving as a local school principal, a male student who was critically injured in a game of tag was alive today because of the rapid response of rescue squad.

&uot;When I got to the field, the boy was pale and unconscious,&uot; he said. &uot;I thought he was gone, but no sooner did I turn around and the rescue squad was there, giving their assistance.

&uot;Later on that day, the surgeon called me to thank me, telling me that had five more minutes passed, the boy would have died from a ruptured spleen. I told him that it was very nice for him to call me and tell me that, but that his thanks needed to be directed to the members of the rescue squad,&uot; he said.

Peele laid down the goals of the meeting, stating that the focus needed to be positive and solution oriented, identifying the hold-ups and hamperings and invited Bertie County Emergency Manager Ricky Freeman, Aulander Rescue Squad Captain Tommy Hale and Lewiston-Woodville Rescue Squad Captain Jim Wiggins to serve as an information resource during the meeting.

Freeman began by recounting the events leading up to the closure of the rescue squad and reiterated the three items Dr. Phil Harris, former Medical Director for Bertie County Medical Services, wanted to see take place before he would agree to consider representing the area again.

&uot;There are three main things he is concerned with,&uot; said Freeman, &uot;commitment to answering calls, increased membership and attendance to all meetings.&uot;

Freeman added, &uot;Since our last meeting, two proposals have been made; one is for Aulander to cover two nights per week, covering all weekends and the other for Aulander to cover two nights and every other weekend.

&uot;When a final proposal is agreed upon, it will be presented to the Bertie County Board of Commissioners for approval and then forwarded on to Dr. Harris for his approval,&uot; he said.

&uot;Initially, he (Harris) wasn’t willing at all to consider putting us back to active status, but he seems to have weakened his opposition to the idea, providing we comply with the requests he made previously.&uot;

Following his debriefing, Peele offered Hale the opportunity to address those in attendance. Speaking somewhat reluctantly, he began by saying, &uot;I know there’s been a lot of anger and hurt feelings and things that were said that should not have been said, but what I am about to say is, as of tonight I am submitting my resignation.&uot;

Looking into a crowd of stunned faces, Hale held back emotion as he expressed his desire not to hear any more negativity and criticism and humbly walked away from the podium, appointing, Assistant Captain Klaus Ackerman, one of the members of the rescue squad, to stand in on his behalf for the remainder of the meeting.

Following that turn of events, Wiggins rebounded stating, &uot;The ultimate goal of our department and I hope of Aulander is to provide the citizens with the service they want, need and deserve, however that may come to pass. We have been covering the area since May 1st and will continue to do so until a solution is found.&uot;

Wiggins stated that the Lewiston-Woodville Rescue Squad had submitted a proposal to the county for them to decide what direction they wanted to go with it, a decision determined to be best handled by the two rescue squads coming together over a mutually intended plan of action.

&uot;The ball is in the court of Lewiston-Woodville and Aulander,&uot; said Bertie County Commissioner Wallace Perry. &uot;Being in such close proximity, the rescue squads should be able to discuss a means of handling this problem in a joint meeting.&uot;

Wiggins agreed that they didn’t need to keep going back and forth and didn’t see a reason why a joint meeting couldn’t be done.

Ackerman stated that since the last meeting, the bylaws had been changed to allow people outside town limits the opportunity to serve on the rescue squad.

&uot;We have given out six or seven applications out and have begun to receive some of those back, two of which were qualified to serve as licensed EMT’s with the rest having to attend school for training,&uot; he said. &uot;But we are currently waiting on background and driving record checks on the two who have been approved.&uot;

According to Freeman, in order to be officially recognized, rescue squads are required to have at least eight certified EMT’s.

&uot;Roanoke-Chowan Community College said they would start a class before the semester kicks off in January if they had at least 12 people sign up to take it as long as it coincided with the dates of the exam,&uot; stated Freeman adding that the state would reimburse anyone committing to join the squad for their books when they were 80 percent completed with the course, which is free.

Bertie County icon Dr. Fred Saunders commented, &uot;I’ve been here since 1958 and I’ve got great optimism about the future of this rescue squad. I’ve seen the great service they’ve provided in the past, but we’ve got to have human beings to serve human beings. &uot;It’s like what President John F. Kennedy said years ago when he said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ That’s the attitude we need to have when it comes to the rescue squad. They need our support.&uot;

One of the gentlemen in the audience stood up and told of his attempt to do the work of an EMT stating, &uot;I tried it, but I can’t do it. It takes a special person to do that job. These people do it on their own free time.&uot;

He also responded to previously made claims that the squad selectively discriminated which call they would take based on race. &uot;I’ve never seen the rescue squad not take a call. If they’ve missed any, it was because they didn’t have the required amount of people to respond. I’m not saying we don’t need to institute some changes, but I’ve seen one person criticized over and over and that’s just plain wrong.&uot;

Saunders added, &uot;The best way to promote good relations with those in the community is to give equal care to all people.&uot;

Both comments were met with a resounding applause from the citizens.

The suggestion was made to make the applications more available to citizens by investigating the possibility of placing them at various locations, including the squad building and Town Hall.

&uot;The only thing left now is for these squads to get together and agree on a plan of action so they can submit a final copy to the Board of Commissioners and Dr. Harris for their approval,&uot; stated Freeman. &uot;My suggestion for anyone interested in taking the classes is to contact the community college and let them know.&uot;

Later in the meeting, Ackerman spoke to the citizens in an emotional address stating, &uot;I came here in 1988 and I have worked with Tommy since we first moved to this area. I’ve seen him get up every hour of the night and yet you criticize him and say how bad we are.&uot;

He continued, &uot;I’ve had enough of it. I get cut down for doing my job. Even though we are trying to help, we get treated like dogs and I don’t think that’s right. We go out to a lot of areas, not just certain ones. I give up.&uot;

Resigning his position with the rescue squad, Ackerman also bowed out of the meeting.

Surprised by the recent revelations, 15-year member of the Aulander Rescue Squad Karen Earley, responded. &uot;I’m in complete shock. I had no idea any of this was going to happen tonight. Both of the members who resigned are married to members, so I don’t know how that is going to affect our membership.&uot;

Back to square one, Freeman suggested the squad meet privately to determine the number of people remaining on the squad to determine what steps needed to be taken with regard to recruiting.

&uot;Due to the nature of this situation, it is probably likely this issue will not be solved in an open meeting,&uot; he said.

One of the citizens recommended showing the town’s appreciation for Hale and Ackerman by requesting their return to the squad through the circulation of a petition or printing a public apology in the newspaper.

&uot;We can swallow our pride and apologize,&uot; said Saunders. &uot;I’m not sure those guys know how much they meant to us. Nobody’s perfect.&uot;

Another citizen added, &uot;We can’t continue to criticize these people and tell them how to run their squad. They are volunteers. Our stance ought to be one that offers motivation for them to serve the community and support them so they can do the job we need them to do.&uot;

&uot;What we need to show is appreciation, not condemnation,&uot; said another citizen.

Peele closed the meeting on that note stating, &uot;There’s life, because there’s hope. One thing we all have in common is that we appreciate having the rescue squad and we all want it back.&uot;