• 72°

County officials address Ahoskie Rescue situation

AHOSKIE – And now, the rest of the story.

Last month, Ahoskie Rescue Squad President Robert Cutler made a presentation before the Town Council in regards to what he saw as the slow demise of the all-volunteer squad.

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

During their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, Council members heard the flip side of the record when Hertford County officials were on the agenda for a presentation concerning countywide emergency medical services (EMS).

At the forefront of the presentation was Dr. Joe Tripp, Hertford County EMS Medical Director. Also present were Hertford County Manager Loria Williams, Board of Commissioners members Curtis Freeman (chairman) and Dupont Davis as well as Charles Jones, the county’s EMS and Emergency Management Director.

Dr. Tripp provided documentation that alleged Ahoskie Rescue is not living up to its franchise ordinance agreement with the county to provide mutual aid. He further alleged that with the exception of one Ahoskie Rescue volunteer, the department is not providing service as a first responder.

“The leadership within the Ahoskie Rescue Squad has disagreed with the changes Hertford County made in its EMS program back in February of this year,” Dr. Tripp said. “They have decided not to take part in our first responders program or provide a back-up unit for a mutual aid call.”

According to Dr. Tripp, Ahoskie Rescue is the only volunteer unit in Hertford County that has obligated itself to answer mutual aid nighttime calls at certain times (7 p.m. until 5 a.m.). The other volunteer units have agreed to become a mutual aid provider, but did not specify times.

“Since Feb. 23 when we made changes to our EMS system, we have had 29 requests for mutual aid, but only one response and that came from Murfreesboro Rescue,” Dr. Tripp noted. “We were not prepared to handle that.”

Ahoskie Councilman Ronald Gatling asked Dr. Tripp if the county had enough trucks and personnel to provide service without mutual aid. Tripp said the county EMS program had four ALS (Advance Life Support) vehicles and one BLS (Basic Life Support) truck.

“We have also increased the number of EMT’s on duty during peak hours,” Dr. Tripp added. “This appears to be working.”

Another plan that also seems to be working is having one Hertford ALS vehicle based in Ahoskie (at the fire department). That unit is stationed in Ahoskie from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Monday through Saturday.

Apparently, this plan is running smoothly. Jones said following the presentation that the county’s EMS response time is, on average, 9 minutes and 22 seconds. He said the state average for counties of similar size to Hertford is nearly 20 minutes per call.

Williams addressed the Council in regards to the county’s EMS Franchise Agreement, one that any medical transport provider within the county must annually apply for in order to operate. The applicant must meet the requirements of the franchise ordinance and then be approved by a special committee.

The county manager said that letters were recently mailed to all medical transport providers in Hertford County that currently are allowed to operate under the Franchise Agreement. She said those letters asked for intent to reapply.

“To date, we have heard no response from the Ahoskie Rescue Squad,” Williams said. “The time is drawing to a close for them to apply. The time is now for all franchise holders to come to the table.”

Gatling asked the consequences of Ahoskie Rescue not reapplying for a franchise.

“If they choose not to renew, they will not have a license to operate in Hertford County,” Williams answered.

“In my meetings with Ahoskie Rescue members, they have not hinted they would withdraw from their franchise agreement with the county,” Dr. Tripp said. “They have made it clear they would not answer mutual aid calls. They feel that since the changes were made by the county, their services have not been fully utilized.”

He continued, “It’s like they are saying they don’t want to play anymore….that they want to take their ball and bat and go home. I have a problem with that. The ball in this case is someone’s life.”

Dr. Tripp stressed that if Ahoskie Rescue does reapply for a franchise, they have a place within the county’s EMS plan.

“But if they agree to be there for assistance and then they do not answer calls, then that’s something I have to address,” he added.

Dr. Tripp also said Ahoskie Rescue needs additional training. He said the Ahoskie volunteers remain certified under the old BLS guidelines, but there are new BLS mandates that must be met.

Meanwhile, Dr. Tripp stated that all but two of the Hertford County EMT’s are ALS certified.

Earlier in the meeting, Dr. Tripp gave a brief overview of the recent upgrades made to Hertford County EMS. Those changes included upgrading the county’s paid EMT’s to the “I” or Intermediate level of service. It also included changing how the volunteer units are dispatched. That new standard is a dual-page system where the town’s volunteer rescue squad members were summoned as first responders (using their private vehicles to reach the scene of the call) while county EMS rolls an ALS unit to the same address.

“As a first responder, the volunteers can assess the situation and update the responding ALS unit of the status of the patient,” Dr. Tripp said. “If county EMS has more calls than ambulances, that’s when the volunteers are called for mutual aid at which time they can roll their BLS vehicle.”

Dr. Tripp said the new system experienced some growing pains, but those early kinks now appear to be ironed out.

At the end of the presentation, Ahoskie Mayor Linda Blackburn said this issue will be further addressed by Council members as they are concerned about the health and well-being of the town’s citizens.

“Other than the $20,000 we allot annually to Ahoskie Rescue, I don’t know of any control we have over a volunteer group,” Blackburn said. “I guess we need to have our attorney to look into that.”