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County officials must keep close watch on rescue issue

September 16, 2004

A month after Washington County's director of emergency services proposed shifting supervision of the county's ambulance services from the volunteer association to county government, the proposal has been put on the shelf.

Given recent issues involving local rescue companies, we recommend county officials be ready to revisit this if problems resurface.

Joe Kroboth, who heads the county's Emergency Services Department, in August proposed that the position be shifted after the volunteer group put its emergency management specialist, Brigitte Heller, on leave for more than a month.

Kroboth said that as a result, some companies' members didn't receive counseling services after responding to incidents in which children died.

And, Kroboth said, Heller's absence also meant that Washington County missed a state deadline for submitting a training plan, a lapse he said meant that emergency medical technicians might have to wait another year to upgrade their skills.

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A state official said the situation wasn't that dire, but said that the approval of a training plans would still take a few months.

At the time, we questioned why other officials, either in the volunteer association or the county government, didn't pick up Heller's duties. We still have questions about the relationship.

For example, on Tuesday, Kroboth asked the commissioners to abide by the Aug. 19 vote by the Washington County Fire and Rescue Association that the county not create the new post.

That vote was 13-12, which hardly signifies a consensus about what should be done.

We'd also be interested in how the ambulance companies voted on this issue and how their members feel they should be supervised.

As proposed by Kroboth, the new position would have included evaluating and monitoring medical treatment by providers, inspecting ambulances and setting up training programs.

Whether the job is handled by the volunteer association or county government, its duties should include the ability to monitor relationships between companies and inside them as well. Personal problems that intrude into the provision of rescue services should be resolved as soon as they occur.

We hope Tuesday's request is a sign that Kroboth and the association's officers have worked out a new relationship of their own, one that recognizes that when it comes to emergency services, "turf" has no place in any discussion.

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