Ambulance volunteers plagued by infighting

August 18, 1997


Staff Writer

SHARPSBURG - Responding to a medical emergency not long ago, Smithsburg ambulance company volunteer Danielle Beasley said she hurried into a house only to discover that her oxygen bottle was empty.

Beasley said she had to go back outside and pull a backup bottle from ambulance and then go back inside.

The reason her original container was empty, she said, was because the previous crew simply had not adequately restocked the ambulance.

It is one of dozens of examples volunteers point to when describing the dissension and disorganization that has gripped the Sharpsburg Emergency Medical Services. Last week, the Washington County Fire and Rescue Association assumed daily operations of the rescue company and its embattled chief announced he was taking a 30-day leave of absence.


Although they said nobody's health has yet been seriously jeopardized, volunteers said internal dissension has begun to affect patient care.

"That's the sad part of all this," Beasley said.

Beasley and others declined to name names, but several strongly insinuated that the problems originate with Chief Larry Myers, who has run the company for the last 13 years.

"People really aren't getting treated fairly," Beasley said. "There's no professionalism. Even though we're volunteers, you're in the type of field that you've got to be professional."

Board president Tom Grimm, who is acting chief in Myers' absence, questioned whether 13 years is too long to run a volunteer rescue company. He said he has already seen improvements since county association officials stepped in.

"It seems like things are getting better. The ball is rolling," he said. "After 30 days, I don't know what is going to happen. That's what scares me."

For his part, Myers said he has found it difficult to convince some volunteers to accept responsibility. He said some members have gladly become officers - in name only.

"The more you ask them to do, the less they do. They want the title but they don't want the responsibility," Myers said. "They'll either do it or they won't. If you push them, their attitude is they'll just quit."

Many have. Volunteers said many members have left the Sharpsburg company to volunteer in nearby Boonsboro or have dropped out altogether. Many attributed the turnover to management at the company.

The company lost its state certification in Advanced Life Support about four years ago because it did not have enough qualified paramedics, Myers said. The company status is furthered threatened because it only has five active emergency medical technicians; the state requires at least 10. He said proposals to hire paid staff have floundered for lack of money.

But Jay Grimes, president of the fire and rescue association, said funds from the Washington County Gaming Commission should provide enough money to hire one or two paramedics. Currently, Sharpsburg is the only rescue company that does not have any paid members.

While Myers and his detractors both praise the early work that the association has done to stabilize the company, it seems clear that a long-term effort will be needed to set the company on the right course.

Beasley said morale has suffered when volunteers have not been disciplined. She said that has begun to change since association officials have taken over.

"If somebody does something wrong, nothing has happened. Now things are getting taken care of," she said. "I've seen a lot of good people come and go - and that's sad."

Beasley said she, too, has cut back her hours because of the tension. She said there is a marked contrast in the atmosphere that existed when she started nine years ago.

"It's sad. We used to have a very productive and very wonderful ambulance company," she said.

Myers said he has not decided if he wants to return as chief when his leave of absence is up. He acknowledged that he has made enemies over the last decade, but added that is an inevitable consequence of leadership.

"I've (angered) quite a few people over the years. There's no doubt about it," he said.

Grimm said a few new people have volunteered in the last week. He said he hopes the disgruntled members come back, but he added that it will take time.

"Hopefully, we will get them back. Believe me, we need to get them all back," he said.

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