Ahoskie Rescue clings to life

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 15, 2006

AHOSKIE – Robert Cutler strongly feels he has lost everything but his pride, and that’s quickly eroding as well.

Cutler, president of the Ahoskie Rescue Squad (ARS), made a presentation here Tuesday during the monthly meeting of the Ahoskie Town Council. His main focus centered on what he foresees as the demise of all volunteer rescue squads in Hertford County.

He painted an ugly picture of paid EMS personnel vs. volunteers, one from where bruised egos have eroded into name-calling and finger-pointing.

Cutler insists that Hertford County government has tied the hands of rescue squad volunteers and it was just a matter of time before the remaining three non-paid squads in the county n Ahoskie, Murfreesboro and Winton n will no longer exist.

“The county no longer allows any volunteer rescue squad to answer a call on our own,” Cutler said. “If roll our unit, we lose our certification.”

Since late last year, Hertford County operates a dual-page system in answering rescue calls. The volunteers are summoned as first responders followed by a page to Hertford County EMS to roll an ambulance to the scene of the call.

“We respond to a call on our own vehicle,” Cutler explained. “We are to assess the situation and standby until the county EMS arrives. There’s not much we can do without our ambulance and onboard equipment. There’s not much we can do with nothing more than a first responders bag.”

Cutler said neither he nor his fellow ARS members felt this type of response was in the best interest of the public.

“If you’ve cut yourself, we have Band-Aids, but if you have a major medical problem, there’s not much we can do,” he noted.

Using information supplied by the Hertford County Sheriff’s Office from where all rescue calls are paged, Cutler said ARS had responded to 146 calls since September of last year. He added the average ARS response time was seven minutes.

Cutler also said that all four of the county’s EMS vehicles were, from time to time, tied-up on different calls.

“That means some calls have to wait,” Cutler noted. “I can think of one instance where our former county manager was in grave medical condition while at an Ahoskie restaurant and 45 minutes went by before the county unit arrived. Again, that’s not in the best interest of the public.”

Cutler said another problem area was that the ARS receives no feedback from Charles Jones (the county’s EMS Director) or from Hertford County Medical Director Dr. Joe Tripp when it comes to correcting situations arising from what he termed as “problem calls.”

“We all experience problem calls from time to time, but we can’t correct them without feedback,” Cutler stressed.

In order to build and maintain pride within the volunteer organization, Cutler said he had made several requests to Hertford County government to allow ARS to answer calls on nights and weekends. He said those requests hit a dead end.

“The county has no interest in allowing us to answer calls with our ambulance,” Cutler said. “They want Hertford County EMS to answer all the calls because they charge for that service. You getting sick or needing medical attention is a cash cow for the county. You will be billed $400 for your ride to the hospital.”

Cutler also claimed instances of name-calling. He said two ARS members were labeled as “Hemorrhoid 1” and “Hemorrhoid 2” by a county employee.

He added that ARS, which has been in existence since 1957, has also experienced a decline in private contributions, mostly because citizens think the local volunteers are no longer answering calls in their own ambulances.

“It’s all very confusing to our citizens,” Cutler said.

Cutler then listed a few scenarios that could allow ARS to remain operational as well as feeling they were of value to their community. They included revoking the county’s Franchise Ordinance, more governmental support through increased funding, charging a fee for their services, combining ARS with Ahoskie Fire or allowing for paid emergency responders during daytime calls and relying on volunteers to work nights and weekends, much like Bertie County operates.

Then there was one final option, one that was the most intriguing.

“I have checked with the state and have discovered that Ahoskie can petition Hertford County and inform them that the ARS is taking over all EMS calls within the town,” Cutler explained.

In closing, Cutler said the ARS, which is financially solvent and owns all of its ambulances and its squad building, belongs to the community it has so proudly served over the years.

“The community should stand-up and make its interests known to its politicians, both locally and in the county,” Cutler concluded. “Support it financially and emotionally because when it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Ahoskie Mayor Linda Blackburn said the main priority should always be the safety, health and welfare of the town’s citizens.

“Our biggest concern is how quick emergency responders can provide services to our citizens,” Blackburn said. “The county EMS Director is scheduled to address this council next month. After that presentation we are open to discuss any options.”