Lack of EMS/Fire Volunteers is a Serious Crisis – Possibly Requiring County Funding
At the December 6th Pocahontas County Commission meeting, Commissioner John Rebinski addressed the increasing threats to the safety of county residents due to the decreasing number of fire and EMS volunteers.
“We can’t guarantee we are going to be able to provide 24/7 service,” said Rebinski. “We’ve been all working together to cover areas between all the agencies. We’ve even blended together to cover calls. But, we just gotta face the fact -each year that goes by, we just keep losing more and more people. People just don’t volunteer like they used to. Sadly enough, this is the consequence.”
Rebinski said that the departments in the Northern part of the county are just weeks away from no longer being able to respond to all emergency medical or fire calls because of this lack of volunteers. Herb Barlow from the Marlinton VFD said his department is literally only hours or days away from that same thing. He said they haven’t even been able to replace one of their two paid responders who left for other employment. He said the PMH’s EMS, which is staffed by paid responders helps when it can, but they are often tied up doing patient transfers for the hospital.
Rebinski said there is an urgent need to establish county paid first responders throughout the county, which will cost lots of money. He suggested cutting off Hotel/Motel money from non-essential organizations, and only funding those required to be funded by state law and Fire/EMS. Rebinski recognized that this will anger many organizations that will lose money if that happens, but that is a better option than having people die because there is no EMS or fire responding to their 911 calls. Barlow suggested that any fire/EMS responders hired be paid a living wage of at least $25.00 per hour plus full benefits. He also suggested a $100.00 emergency services tax be paid by all residents to help pay for this.
The commissioners decided to ask all those organizations that could lose their Hotel/Motel tax be asked to attend the December 20th commission meeting to discuss this with them.
Also at the meeting, 911 Director Mike O’Brien received commission authorization to hire Aaron Jackson as a full-time dispatcher at $12.50 per hour plus benefits, effective 12/15/22.
They received the annual update from Brenda Marvin from the Pocahontas County Artisan’s Coop, and the annual update on the Pocahontas County Arts Council from Cynthia Gurreri and Peggy Owens.
The commissioners approved Amanda Smarr’s request to draw $45,560.94 from the ARC Broadband Project Grant. Smarr also announced that their grant request to receive $245.000 to demolish the old Board of Education building has been approved.
The commissioners voted to support PMH’s ARC Grant application for 2 million dollars for phase 2 of the hospital’s expansion program.
Cree Lahti of the Libraries and Visitors Centers delivered their annual update to the commissioners.
Russell Holt brought an issue regarding water line expansion to the CDC’s mine safety center to the attention of the commission. More details will be presented about this in a future story.
The commissioner’s discussed power issues in the southern portion of the county. Mon Power has requested specific problem areas be provided to them.
The commissioners decided to invite David Cain to their next meeting to discuss his continued maintenance to the county-owned lots in East Cass, despite being asked to stop maintaining them.
The commissioners also received a letter from Governor Jim Justice telling them the County’s application for funding through the FY2021 Community Development Block Grant has been approved for 2 million dollars. This will be for the Pocahontas PSD’s Thornwood Waterline extension to provide water to customers east of Bartow in the Thornwood area.