Searching for proof, and the truth

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Is it fair to sit in judgment when an apparent biased opinion has already taken shape?

Apparently not….that is if you live in Hertford County.

Apparently not….if you live in Hertford County where you give of your talent, time and money to volunteer to help others.

A front page article that appeared in this newspaper last Thursday left me a bit upset. The article in reference is one where the Hertford County Board of Commissioners pulled the pen out of County Manager Loria Williams’ hand as she prepared to write checks to the county’s volunteer rescue squads.

That payment, a $500 monthly stipend, has traditionally helped these volunteer groups, ones that operate on a shoestring budget, with their expenses. Similar funds are doled out to the county’s volunteer fire departments, with the exception of Ahoskie Rural who generates a portion of its revenue from a special tax levied upon those residing in their district.

Volunteer emergency responders are to be praised for the invaluable service they provide. They spend countless hours training, both in the classroom and through live drills, in order to maintain their certification. And they do it all for one thing and one thing only n a burning desire to help their fellow man in a time of need.

But, anyway, back to the story.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Curtis Freeman said in the article that, quote, “The volunteer services here have done nothing to suggest we should continue to include them in our budget. Most of them do not even respond to calls.”

Mr. Freeman, may I address your statement?

For starters, the main reason behind the demise of volunteer rescue squads in Hertford County is the doing of your own board. Over the years, Hertford County Emergency Medical Services has taken over the duties once performed by our volunteers. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing because, in most instances, a group of EMT’s already gathered at a single location waiting for a call are able to quickly respond. Meanwhile, volunteers are forced to leave their workplaces and drive to the squad building to man their emergency vehicles.

And did I mention that Hertford County EMS charges for its services? Sure, the county must cover the expense of running a full-time service, but it appears that this has turned into a “cash cow” for the county rather than for the love of helping their citizens. In other words, it all boils down to a business decision.

Meanwhile, the volunteers, despite their training, have been downgraded to “first responders.” They can’t even roll their emergency vehicles unless pre-approved by county officials. They respond in their private vehicles and are left with the task of holding a patient’s hand while the cash wagon is en route.

Secondly, if Mr. Freeman and his fellow commissioners were so upset that the volunteers were doing nothing, then why, at the board’s Nov. 6 meeting, did they unanimously approve the operational franchises for the Ahoskie Volunteer Rescue Squad, as well as the Winton volunteer unit? It would appear if they questioned why or why not volunteers were responding to emergency calls, then they should have addressed those issues at that meeting instead of voting in favor of approving the franchise.

Ya’ll were the ones who granted franchise approval. That means you were in agreement that the Ahoskie and Winton squads provided a service to its citizens. If so, then shouldn’t you provide them with funds just as you do the volunteer fire departments?

Now, all of a sudden, the commissioners say they need proof of the services provided by the volunteer rescue squads. But that’s politicians for you….let’s check our common sense at the door before a meeting begins.

You need proof? I’ve got your proof right here.

One needs to look no further than what unfolded in Ahoskie this past Friday evening. There, a 57-year-old Alzheimer’s patient wandered away from her residence. Response came from far and wide, including Ahoskie Rescue, Ahoskie Police, Gates County Rescue, the Highway Patrol, tracking dogs from Northampton County and our local firemen, just to name a few. They were there not because someone pointed a gun to their head and barked out an order, but rather for compassion of a fellow human being. And all were prepared to take as much time as needed to find this woman.

How much is it worth to save a single life? What’s the price tag on that? I’m sure if Ahoskie Rescue transported the lady to Roanoke-Chowan Hospital, there would be no strings attached. But if it was Hertford County EMS, before the night was over there was someone sitting behind a computer cranking out a bill for services rendered.

So, go ahead commissioners and probe and poke all you wish. I’m pretty sure you will find a way to prevent the county manager from sending out those checks. But think about this, the next time you miss a commissioners meeting n like one particular elected official did on numerous occasions when I covered that board n would you be upset if your salary was withheld for services not rendered?