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New rescue coordinator needs more justification

August 12, 2004

The proposal to have the activities of Washington County's ambulance companies supervised by a paid county employee might make sense if Emergency Services Director Joe Kroboth would answer one question:

What's wrong with the way the system is being run now?

On Tuesday, Kroboth asked the Washington County Commissioners to create the position of emergency medical services coordinator and pay the person chosen $42,108.

Given that the job description involves everything from monitoring medical treatment to inspecting ambulances, the salary seems a bit low, unless Kroboth is seeking a retired physician who doesn't need a big salary.

Up until now, the county's ambulance crews were overseen by an emergency management specialist paid by the Washington County Fire and Rescue Association.

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But the person holding that position was placed on leave from June 4 to July 28, which Kroboth said had "negatively impacted" the EMS system.

How? Kroboth didn't say and Tom Altman, the association's president, said he was surprised by the claim, saying others had taken over the specialist's duties.

Some ambulance companies do support the change, including those in Maugansville, Sharpsburg, Potomac Valley and Boonsboro. The Boonsboro company said in a letter that the association failed to arrange for timely counseling for those responding to the deaths of several children in early July.

Is that it? No doubt those who responded should have received counseling, but does it really take someone in a paid position to see that a child's death might affect even the most experienced paramedic? Couldn't someone like the company's chief have made that call?

We're not arguing that the companies shouldn't be supervised. But is the system in place so badly broken that it can't be fixed? And if and when there are problems in the future, will the public ever hear about them?

We ask that question because we're still waiting for an explanation of what happened on March 5. Whatever it was resulted in disciplinary action against a volunteer in the Smithsburg Emergency Medical Services company.

In that case, Kroboth has not revealed the name of the volunteer - or what triggered the disciplinary action.

From the few details revealed so far, it's safe to say it didn't involve using an ambulance to go grocery shopping.

Something else happened, but so far the cloak of secrecy has been placed tightly over it by Kroboth and other county officials. Until we're sure that the new position he seeks wouldn't function as one more roadblock to giving the public crucial information on matters of life and death, we're opposed to its creation.

The commissioners apparently aren't sure either, saying that they'll allow the association's members to vote before they make a decision. Winning a vote means convincing the voters you're right. We await Kroboth's arguments with great interest.

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