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Ambulances headed back to W.Va. volunteers

July 27, 2000

Ambulances headed back to W.Va. volunteers



By ANDREW SCHOTZ / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Two repossessed back-up ambulances will soon be returned to volunteer rescue crews, the Berkeley County Emergency Ambulance Authority decided Thursday evening.

If the volunteer departments don't cut their "no-response" rates by 20 percent, however, they may lose their ambulances again.

The authority's decision came three days after the Berkeley County Commissioners moderated a peacemaking session involving the authority and the volunteer groups it oversees.

Tensions between the two sides had escalated when the authority removed ambulances from the South Berkeley Volunteer Fire Co. and the Baker Heights Volunteer Fire Co.

The removal of a third ambulance, from the Back Creek Volunteer Fire Company, has been delayed because Back Creek's other ambulance is being repaired.

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The authority said it was taking back the ambulances so they could be used where they were most needed. Critics, however, have questioned the timing of the move - shortly after a proposed hike in the annual ambulance fee was rejected.

The ambulance authority provides funding and two ambulances to each of the county's five volunteer rescue squads. The authority also operates two stations of paid workers and is planning to open a third in the north end of the county, near Marlowe.

On Thursday, the ambulance authority approved, one at a time, six resolutions pertaining to ambulance usage and repairs. There were dissenting votes on half of the items.

The first item, to put the ambulances back in the stations for 90 days, passed 7-1. Authority member Lynn Leatherman voted no.

Authority member Kenneth Hite later tried to amend the motion to remove the 90-day deadline, but his motion failed for lack of a second.

Hite cast the only vote against an item that said the volunteer companies had to cut their no-response rates, or else defend their need for a second ambulance. The motion passed 7-1.

Ambulance Authority Program Manager Gary Collis said that statistics show that volunteers don't get to 45 percent of dispatched calls, leaving units of paid staff to cover those calls.

However, authority members and the volunteers agree that the data is skewed by calls that are dispatched when the volunteers are busy with other calls. The authority is working to change the criteria.

Also Thursday, Hite proposed a 90-day halt on the construction of the Marlowe station, even though most of the work is done.

He later withdrew his motion when other authority members said it would make more sense to finish the station, and later sell it if the authority decided it isn't necessary.

Leatherman made a follow-up motion to allow the authority to get bids on a section for ambulance bays, the only work that is left. It passed 5-1, with 2 abstentions.

According to Collis, the hours of service of paid staff in the south-end station are being cut to help provide personnel for the north-end station.

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