Richard D. L. Fulton
(4/26) The Emmitsburg Volunteer Ambulance Company has been suspended and its county-paid personnel and ambulance have been reassigned to the Vigilant Hose Company.
The suspension also came with a board recommendation that the local ambulance company consider merging with the Vigilant Hose Company.
The county Board of Commissioners unanimously voted at their April 15 meeting to temporarily suspend the ambulance company until June. There will be a June 15 deadline for producing required documents, and a decision will be rendered at the June 19 meeting of the board.
The ambulance company was placed on suspension by the county’s Board of Commissioners, on a recommendation the board received from the Frederick County Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association (FCVFRA).
In an April 9 memorandum addressed to the county commissioners, County Attorney John Mathias stated, "The FCVFRA has submitted a recommendation to the board of county commissioners to immediately stop funding Emmitsburg Ambulance Company No. 26. Mathias’ memorandum further stated that the FCVFRA further recommended, "Company 26 should no longer be
dispatched or allowed to provide EMS (emergency medical services)."
As part of its review into the failures of the ambulance company, FCVFRA requested the ambulance company submit a list of its "qualified responders." (A qualified responder is an individual who lives within five miles and has completed basic EMT training.) According to FCVFRA, the list submitted by the ambulance company included a Mount Airy resident,
unqualified local university students, and Pennsylvania residents.
Eric Smothers, president of the FCVFRA, noted in an April 7 report to the County: "The [executive] board felt insulted that the ambulance company would not be truthful." In addition, the FCVFRA report noted that: the ambulance company has repeatedly turned away offers of help, had no qualified operational officers, and priorities of the company were "more
about fund raisings (i.e. bingos) than operational matters (i.e. answering calls.)"
Until the suspension is lifted paid county staff and the county ambulance will be housed at the Vigilant Hose Company and will be the first due responder unit for the area.
The ambulance company will be permitted to retain more than $67,000 provided to the company for fiscal year 2014 by the county, but state money distributed among all emergency response companies in the county will be held in abeyance, pending the outcome of the suspension process.
Additionally, county ambulance company funding based on first due responses will now go to the county-paid crew now housed at the Vigilant Hose Company, and the allocation of subscription payments will be paid based on the period of time the Emmitsburg and county-paid staffs were serving as first due this year.
If the ambulance company fails to comply with the condition of suspension by June 15, "the next discussion [by the board of commissioners] would be to discontinue all county funding."
County commissioners also stipulated that the ambulance company must begin talks with the Vigilant Hose Company on the potential of merging the ambulance company into the Vigilant Hose Company. The results of the talks must be reported back to county commissioners at their June 19 meeting.
FCVFRA’s full report on the ambulance company
Emmitsburg Ambulance Co. has history of "struggles"
During the April 15 meeting of the county Board of Commissioners, the Emmitsburg Ambulance Company was once again taken to task for its shortcomings, and as a result was temporarily suspended.
Also, the board set a condition on the suspension that the company must sit down with Vigilant Hose and determine if there is a possibility the ambulance company could be merged with the fire company.
The company’s future, as far as public funding goes, and potentially its autonomy are now apparently hanging in the balance and dependent upon the outcome of what they can do to address the county’s concerns by mid-June.
It’s not the first time the ambulance company has been admonished for a lackluster performance that spans years. Nor is it the first time it has been suggested the ambulance company "fold its cards" and allow Vigilant Hose to take over its operations.
Especially of concern to the county fire authorities and administrators has been the company’s "fail rate," the failure of a company to respond within eight minutes of the call.
The county considers a fail rate of ten percent or less reasonably acceptable. The Emmitsburg Ambulance Company has had fail rates as high as 35 percent. Rhonda Cunningham, Administrative Specialist with the Frederick County Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association (FCVFRA), said the ambulance company had a fail rate of 32 percent last year.
The following is a time-line of more noteworthy issues affecting the ambulance company:
1998 – Frederick County temporarily provided a paid county ambulance staff to Emmitsburg to ensure acceptable medical response coverage. The action stemmed from complaints from other fire and ambulance companies that were forced to cover for Emmitsburg ambulance’s fail rate.
2000 – Ambulance President Lowman Keeney was voted out of office. Company Chief Ann Marie Messner submitted her resignation.
2001 – The county threatened to suspend the ambulance company over billing issues. The company ceased the questioned practices.
2004 – County commissioners suspended the ambulance company, first due status for four months, during which the county crew would be first due. The county approved a new Emmitsburg area fire tax district for the benefit of aiding ambulances. A merger of the ambulance and fire companies was suggested.
2005 – The new county Emmitsburg area fire tax district went into effect. County-paid ambulance staff was relocated from the firehouse to the ambulance building. Discussions of a merger were again brought up for consideration.
2008 – A study that was initiated by the county commissioners in 2007 was finalized, recommending that the fire and ambulance companies merge. The ambulance company’s new $2.3 million headquarters on Creamery Road was dedicated.
2011 – Emmitsburg ambulance entered into a consent order with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in which the company admitted to "repeatedly" soliciting charitable funds from Pennsylvania residents without being legally registered to do so. The company was ordered to "cease and desist," and assessed a $2,000 penalty.
The ongoing issues culminating with the commissioners’ April 15 suspension prompted Commissioner Kirby Delauter to offer the ambulance company the following advice: "We do have a stark contrast between the Vigilant Fire Company and the ambulance company. The model they [the Vigilant Hose Co.] use is a good model. It works. You might just examine that as
well to determine what are you doing. It’s hard to look at yourself and try to tell yourself what you are doing is not working."
The ambulance company has until June to do so.
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