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EMS chief to ask county to oversee ambulances

August 10, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Washington County's director of emergency services is expected today to ask the county to oversee the daily activities of all ambulance companies in the county, a job currently handled by the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association.

Director of Emergency Services Joe Kroboth is to ask the Washington County Commissioners to create an emergency medical services coordinator position to oversee the rescue companies, according to documentation prepared for today's commissioners meeting.

Tom Altman, president of the Fire and Rescue Association, said Monday he opposes county oversight of the duties.

Altman declined to elaborate Monday, but said he would make a statement after the commissioners meeting today.

The county-created position would pay $42,108 a year in salary and benefits, according to the documentation. The duties of the position would include evaluating and monitoring medical treatment by emergency providers; inspecting ambulances to ensure compliance with federal, state and county regulations; and plan and put into place training programs for providers.

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Kroboth said Monday that the coordinator would work closely with the Fire and Rescue Association.

The request for the county position comes after the Fire and Rescue Association placed its emergency management specialist, Brigitte Heller, on leave for more than a month, leaving ambulance companies without anyone to coordinate emergency operations, Kroboth said Monday.

Kroboth, in a report to the commissioners, said the emergency management specialist was on leave from June 4 to July 28 and that the "EMS system was negatively impacted" as a result. It does not say why the Fire and Rescue Association placed her on leave.

Altman said Heller was placed on administrative leave for personnel reasons and that he could not elaborate.

He disputed Kroboth's claims that the absence had a negative impact on emergency services. He said others within the Fire and Rescue Association picked up the specialist's duties.

"I'm surprised to hear someone say that ... it was negatively impacted," Altman said.

Kroboth said he discussed the situation with the commissioners, who raised the issue of moving the position into county government.

At least four ambulance companies, Maugansville Goodwill Volunteer Fire Co. Inc.; Sharpsburg EMS; Potomac Valley Fire Co. Inc.; and Boonsboro Ambulance & Rescue Services Inc., wrote letters to Kroboth in support of the county managing the position.

"The budget within the association is currently paying for a service that the EMS is being denied," Boonsboro Ambulance & Rescue Services said in a July 14 letter to Kroboth. "We feel that the budget is not being utilized appropriately and that the EMS system is suffering dramatically due to the amount of time we have been denied service."

For example, the ambulance company wrote that counseling services were not arranged in a timely manner for rescuers who responded to several "pediatric traumas" that resulted in three deaths between July 3-8.

"Our chief officers felt our providers needed expedient counseling and debriefing in order to cope with their traumatic incidents," the company wrote. "This service was not available to our providers in a timely fashion and this is unacceptable."

County oversight would help prevent such a problem from happening again, Kroboth said Monday.

While the association has not taken a formal vote on the issue, Altman said the majority of member companies is against the county taking charge of the position. Kroboth said he knows some companies oppose the county position but that he doesn't know how much dissension exists.

"There are some supporting companies, but that's not a majority," Altman said. "This should not have happened."

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