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EMS personnel discuss plan to modify operations

The two-part, phased plan would allow for more government support and standardized procedures for all of the county's ambulance

The two-part, phased plan would allow for more government support and standardized procedures for all of the county's ambulance

February 04, 2007|by ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN - Washington County's emergency medical services personnel met Saturday afternoon to discuss a draft plan that would add 12 full-time advanced life-support paramedics throughout the county to augment the current system.

John Latimer IV, the county's emergency services director, led a review of the plan at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater. The two-part, phased plan would allow for more government support and standardized procedures for all of the county's ambulance companies.

Latimer stressed the plan, which has been approved by the Emergency Medical Services Advisory Council, makes "no attempt to ruin the tradition of this service" and called the plan "pro-volunteer."

Currently, Washington County has about 1,000 EMS responders, including both volunteers and employees, Latimer said.

Phase I of the plan calls for a workday length limit of 48 straight hours, reimbursement from the county for EMS vehicle fuel and maintenance costs, and 12 advanced life-support paramedics and their equipment divided into four regional battalions where needed in the county. The projected cost of Phase I is almost $1.4 million.

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In response to a question about the costs of the plan increasing property taxes, Latimer said that the advisory council was not charged with working out the details of funding.

The Washington County Commissioners plan to discuss the EMS plan at its meeting Tuesday afternoon, Latimer said.

Saturday's meeting was part of a plan to get all of the EMS companies on board with the draft plan, said Chris Amos, chief of Community Rescue Service. The public and county commissioners also need to be part of the discussion, he said.

Amos' biggest concern about the plan is that his company will lose personnel to the four proposed battalions.

"There are only so many paramedics," he said. "We may have to recruit."

CRS responds to more than 50 percent of the EMS calls in Washington County, Amos said.

Amos serves as chair for the EMS subcommittee of the Washington County Fire and Rescue Association and helped shape the EMS plan, he said. Uniting the different EMS companies is difficult because companies are accustomed to working independently, he said.

The chiefs of each organization can identify their company's weaknesses, and addressing all of those weaknesses in the plan presented a challenge, Amos said.

Under Phase II of the plan, which would go into effect at companies that have not met standards, the county would take over billing and hire extra staff.

Phase II calls for a county salary structure for paid EMS staff, county reimbursement of $8 to $10 per hour to companies for each volunteer hour donated and operating cost reimbursements. The projected cost of Phase II is almost $4.6 million, not including revenue.

The county's smaller companies will hit Phase II of the plan first, should it be adopted, Amos said.

Jason Baer started volunteering with an EMS crew 55 years ago. More Washington County residents results in more emergency calls, and it's wearing EMS people out, he said.

Years ago, most ambulance companies were staffed entirely by volunteers. People responded to emergency calls from their home or workplace, Baer said.

But many people no longer work in Washington County, so that situation no longer is possible, he said.

"There's just not enough people," Baer said.

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