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New paid ambulance plan to be reviewed

August 19, 1998|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Officials have come up with a modified plan for paid ambulance service in Jefferson County that is $3 million cheaper than a plan that was voted down by the Jefferson County Commission a week ago.

The commissioners are expected to review the plan today.

Today is the last day the commissioners can vote to put on the November ballot a proposed excess levy that would pay for the service.

The $2.2 million proposal would pay for a full-time paramedic and emergency medical technician at the county's four volunteer ambulance stations - Shepherdstown, Independent, Friendship and Blue Ridge Mountain fire companies.

The proposal drops a plan to build three additional ambulance stations in the southern and western part of the county, said ambulance authority President Steve McKinney. The authority believed the extra stations were important because they would be placed in areas of the county that take longer to respond to, he said.

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But volunteer firefighters were concerned about the cost of the project. The volunteer departments also believed they were left out of the planning process, said McKinney.

Rather than building the additional stations, the new plan will set aside money to add extra staff to ambulance companies that experience increased calls, said McKinney.

The paid paramedic and emergency medical technicians will work day shifts, and will use volunteer ambulances, according to the plan. The shifts for the paid crews will be staggered, and combined, the four stations will offer service from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., said Doug Pittinger, ambulance chief for the Shepherdstown Fire Co.

Volunteer ambulance crews will respond to calls when paid crews are off duty, said Pittinger.

The county's volunteer fire departments agreed to support the modified ambulance plan in a meeting Monday, McKinney said. On Wednesday night the authority approved the plan.

The authority and the volunteer fire departments were also in the process Wednesday night of signing agreements on how budgets will be developed, how equipment will be purchased and other issues, said McKinney.

Volunteer fire officials said Tuesday they liked the proposal. Pittinger said the original $5.2 million plan was "overkill," but the scaled-down version is an excellent start.

There is still concern among the commissioners about the proposal, particularly how it will be funded.

The commission was surprised by the cost of the $5.2 million proposal, said Commissioner Gregory Lance.

"We're going to have to get into a lot of details of what the plan is," Lance said.

County officials have been considering a paid ambulance service for about six years. The issue arose when volunteer crews said they were having trouble responding to the growing number of calls.

The worst time was during the day, when volunteers were responding to calls while trying to hold down jobs.

In some cases, it has taken 30 minutes to get an ambulance crew on the road, officials said.

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