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County takes over Emmitsburg ambulance Company

Tara E. Buck
Frederick News Post 

(9/3/04) Career firefighters reported for duty Thursday evening as the Emmitsburg Volunteer Ambulance Co. closed its doors for the first time during the all-volunteer company's 50 years of service.

With a 3-2 vote, the County Commissioners on Thursday accepted Frederick County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association's recommendation to help the struggling ambulance company by funding career personnel 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Commissioners President John L. Thompson Jr. and Commissioner Bruce Reeder dissented.

The company provided data last week showing failure rates as high as 35 percent, meaning an ambulance did not leave the station within eight minutes much of the time.

About six hours after the commissioners adjourned, career personnel were in place in Emmitsburg, according to Walter Murray, Director of the Division of Fire and Rescue.

The commissioners moved not only to fund career emergency medical technicians but to stop Emmitsburg Ambulance Co.'s emergency response for four months. Career personnel are to work out of Vigilant Hose Co. instead of the ambulance station, using the ambulance company's equipment. Company volunteers might be called on to respond if the career EMTs are on another call.

Funds for paid personnel will come from the county's contingency fund until a fire tax can be established in Emmitsburg following a public hearing. Personnel costs are expected to be $200,000 over the next four months.

In a letter to Emmitsburg officials, the ambulance company had requested career personnel 12 hours a day, five days a week. The company said it recognized it was increasingly difficult for its members to meet the demands of too many calls and not enough EMTs. Membership had also declined recently, leaving the company with only two active responders. Ten volunteers recently left the company, and the top responder, Jeanette McGuire, was recently suspended for unrelated issues.

"We want to remain a company, basically," Jamie Eyler, company vice-president, told the commissioners.

Failed calls split evenly among day, night and weekend hours during the first half of 2004, according to company data.

"We view it as an emergency situation, and the problem has increased," said Frank Rauschenberg, president of Vigilant Hose Co.

The reality that the ambulance company was understaffed and ill-prepared to dispatch EMTs to emergencies affected other stations. The Vigilant Hose Co. and stations in Thurmont have been forced to pick up the slack, officials said.

"Our main concern is that they have emergency response," said Chief Bob Rosensteel Jr. of the Vigilant Hose Co. "We want to serve our community."

Mr. Thompson said he would not support the ruling because he had not seen written support from the town, the ambulance company or the fire company supporting a fire tax. He said that in 2000, Emmitsburg citizens and emergency personnel made it clear they wanted nothing to do with a fire tax -- "They said, 'We don't want anything you've got to sell. Leave us alone.'"

He said he is concerned that the board's motion to fund career personnel for four months is a temporary remedy, not a long-term solution.

"My concern is that people will get used to the 24 hour a day coverage (which) they don't have to pay for," he said.

Mr. Thompson said it is possible residents will attend a public hearing and testify against raising taxes.

"I'm always concerned that we're not providing people with more government than what they're willing to pay for," he said. The town, the ambulance company and the fire company "wanted the service, but none of them had anything in front of me that said they wanted to raise taxes to pay for it."

Mr. Reeder said moving the ambulance company's base of operations would be the death of the company. Others, including Commissioner Mike Cady, were resolute that the volunteers be given a chance to turn things around.

"We hope ... the ambulance company will be able to organize itself so it will be able to continue," said Commissioner Jan Gardner.

Mr. Cady said recent personnel problems lent themselves to infrastructure issues within the organization he hoped could be resolved.

"They need help to restore the service and regroup," Mr. Cady said. "When the request for career personnel came through, 10 (volunteers) didn't like it and walked out. This is really a big mess."

Emmitsburg Mayor Jim Hoover and town commissioner Dianne Walbrecker said they were pleased their citizens would be served by career EMTs around the clock.

The volunteers "have done what they could over the years, but it's just time," Ms. Walbrecker said. "We've gotten bigger."

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