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Chief Resigns, President Ousted at Emmitsburg Ambulance
 
Emily Salmon
Gazette

Amid a swirl of controversy over high failure rates and an inability to pull its own weight, the Emmitsburg Ambulance Co. is losing its two top officers.

President Lowman Keeney has been voted out of office, while Ann Marie Messner, the company's chief for four years, has submitted her resignation. The two departures were confirmed Tuesday by Frederick County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association (FCVFRA) President Donald Lachman.

Messner's resignation will be effective Sept. 23, while no date was available on when Keeney had been forced out.

"I have resigned my position as chief due to personal challenges," Messner said Wednesday, "not the least of which is being six months pregnant with my fifth child. I will be taking some much-needed time off to care for my family."

She said that she would retain her life membership in the company and has pledged her "full cooperation" with the company and the county regarding current issues.

Keeney could not be reached for comment.

The personnel shake-up comes as the all-volunteer ambulance company, the last of its kind in the county, is the subject of public scrutiny for missed and late responses to calls.

Over the past three years, neighboring fire and ambulance companies have complained to the FCVFRA, claiming Emmitsburg Ambulance is understaffed and unreliable.

As the result of an FCVFRA committee's request in 1998, Emmitsburg's fire company, The Vigilant Hose Co., ran a county-owned ambulance from its station for nine months to ensure a response to all ambulance calls.

In February 2000, Tim Clarke, the president of Vigilant Hose, wrote a letter to the FCVFRA citing "grave concern" for Emmitsburg Ambulance's rate of failed and late responses.

The issue surfaced again this year when Emmitsburg Ambulance failed to respond to seven of eight consecutive calls in a 33-hour period from July 20-21.

This time, Terry Shook, president of Thurmont Community Ambulance Service, joined in the criticism, complaining to the association about the "soaring failure rate" of the Emmitsburg Ambulance. He said that his Thurmont company had covered for Emmitsburg in 10 of 11 calls during the July 20-21 period.

Shook requested that county funds be withheld from Emmitsburg Ambulance and be disbursed accordingly to other local companies that had responded for them. He also asked for a committee to evaluate the company's operations.

Emergency services workers then crowded an Emmitsburg town meeting Aug. 6 to inform town officers of the controversy and air their grievances.

Messner said Wednesday that she felt the "response challenges" were confined to the 33-hour period in July and were caused by communication errors that have been addressed.

After an Aug. 9 meeting of the Executive Board of the FCVFRA, Vigilant Hose, Thurmont Community Ambulance and Emmitsburg Ambulance, the FCVFRA decided to form an independent committee to look at the status of Emmitsburg Ambulance and make recommendations for its future.

These recommendations may include the hiring of paid EMS personnel at either Vigilant Hose or Emmitsburg Ambulance.

"We are not going to discriminate against the ambulance company," association president Lachman said. "What we are doing is investigating the emergency services in the Emmitsburg area."

Messner expressed her confidence in the committee assigned to investigate the complaints. "I feel that Mr. Lachman has taken every conceivable step to insure the appointed members are knowledgeable as well as unbiased." essner suggested that her company was not unique in its problems.

"As the challenges being publicly faced by [Emmitsburg Ambulance] are not confined to Emmitsburg, and are in some parts of Frederick County considerably and consistently worse," she said, "my only request of Mr. Lachman, the FCVFRA and the special committee is to retain the services of that committee after the completion of the investigation of Emmitsburg. By doing so, the committee can continue to investigate response standards, although on a county, rather than station, level, insuring adequate service and equal compliance with current county ordinances already in place."

The issue of hiring paid emergency personnel has arisen with the changing character of Frederick County. Many county rescue companies, previously staffed by volunteers, have been faced with hiring paid emergency personnel, as communities become increasingly the denizens of commuters with fewer local ties.

Clarke scoffed at the suggestion that paid personnel be hired for Vigilant Hose. He said Tuesday that his company has a zero-percent failure rate and that he does not see any need for paid personnel there.

"I'm not saying that down the road we may not, because we're all-volunteer, but at this point we're in a very strong position," Clarke said. "We're fortunate that we have a good group of volunteers that enable us to provide emergency services - specifically fire and rescue services - to the Emmitsburg community without failure at this point."

Lachman said the five-member committee comprises two members from outside Frederick County, one Frederick member and an Emmitsburg citizen. It is chaired by Dale McGuire, president of the Lewistown Volunteer Fire Co. and 2nd vice president of the FCVFRA.

The committee will provide its report to him in mid-November, Lachman said.

In the interim, two members of Emmitsburg Ambulance will assume the posts vacated by Messner and Keeney, Lachman said. Steve King will become the company's chief and Joseph Pelkey has taken over as president.