Highland County Supervisors Hold Public Hearing on Proposed EMS Ordinance
On Wednesday night, the Highland County Board of Supervisors tabled action on a proposed Emergency Medical Services Ordinance. The proposed ordinance makes volunteer EMS agencies responsible to the county EMS Chief and sets the county’s paid EMS department as the primary designated response agency.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Harry Sponaugle opened the meeting giving a history of the volunteer and paid EMS situation. He said volunteers had asked for help in the past, as there were not enough volunteers to answer calls. In 2019, a chief and a deputy chief were hired by the county and the Bolar Volunteer Fire Department was authorized to operate in the county. There are now five paid staff members. In 2019, a Memorandum of Understanding was also created, with paid staff providing personnel and volunteers providing equipment and vehicles. Sponaugle said in 2020 problems arose between paid staff and volunteers. In February 2021, the volunteers revoked the Memorandum of Understanding saying paid staff would not have access to equipment unless they became members of the volunteer rescue squad. The Memorandum was later extended, with a deadline now of July 17. Sponaugle said paid staff was told they had to be out of the volunteer space. The county then bought the car wash for paid EMS staff use and Sponaugle said the Board didn’t make it public for fear of bids being run up. Sponaugle said it was decided to have one chief over all EMS in the county. He said this ordinance does not restrict volunteers, but it puts equipment, volunteers and paid staff together and the volunteers will still have the right to pursue revenue recovery. Sponaugle said the Board has never considered shutting down volunteer EMS. He said the most important question was, are calls being answered? And the answer is finally, yes.
Paul Trible, President of the Highland County Volunteer Rescue Squad, said after discussion with the county on how to move forward with volunteers and paid staff, the Board hired its own attorney and crafted what the board wanted, in this ordinance. He said there was tension, but volunteers never asked the paid staff to leave. Trible said the Memorandum of Understanding was revoked because they were getting nowhere in talks with the county. He said if they couldn’t reach an agreement, the staff would be given memberships and would continue to have access to facilities and equipment. Since the paid staff is the proposed primary response agency in the ordinance, Trible said the county is creating an environment where volunteers can’t maintain credentials, because they won’t have enough calls to respond to. He said the paid staff will take revenue recovery. Trible said a volunteer was recently put on the paid schedule, which all adds up to an effort to try to sideline the volunteer agency. Trible said he had a letter, that he was hoping not to have to deliver to Sheriff Neil, that stated the volunteer rescue squad would suspend all volunteer emergency response, effective immediately, if the Board passed the ordinance. Trible said they all need to get together one more time and work this out.
To hear more from this meeting, including public comments and board comments, stay tuned to Allegheny Mountain Radio.