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Ultimatums set for Fairplay fire company

March 10, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

FAIRPLAY -- The Washington County Commissioners decided Tuesday to set deadlines for Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co. to address staffing and service problems or face funding cuts and possible decertification.

The company has seven days to accept the county's offer to add a paid county staff member to the company during daytime hours and 90 days to restore its first-responder service, the commissioners said.

That decision came after a presentation by Washington County Director of Fire and Emergency Services Kevin L. Lewis, who revealed new details about the company's response rate, staffing levels and certifications during the commissioners meeting.

The company's president, Bill Pennington, who could not attend the meeting, said by phone Tuesday evening that he was surprised by the ultimatums. County officials have told him the company was on the right track, he said.

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In February, the company did not respond adequately to 13 of its 22 calls, Lewis said. It failed to respond to four calls, was late responding to three and responded with less than the recommended number of personnel for the other six, Lewis said.

A failed response can mean the company did not go to the incident at all or did not respond with all of the apparatus requested, Lewis said. A response is considered late if it takes the company more than five minutes to leave the station, he said. Minimum staffing is three firefighters and a driver for an engine, or one firefighter and a driver for a tanker or minipumper.

Pennington accused Lewis of picking and choosing data to make an example of Fairplay. The company has not failed on any fire calls in the area where it is the primary fire company, Pennington said.

Part of the company's problem is low staffing levels between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m., when many volunteers are at work, Lewis said. Of the calls that came in during those hours, Fairplay failed to respond to three, was late to two and didn't have adequate staffing for four, he said.

The county offered to put a paid firefighter/emergency medical technician in the station during daytime hours until the company got back up to par, but the company has not accepted the offer, Lewis said.

Pennington said no one ever asked the company to consider adding county personnel.

The county's other main concern is the company's recent decision to stop providing first-responder service for most medical calls, Lewis said. The company is still responsible for certain types of medical calls, including cardiac arrests, he said.

Fairplay is one of seven fire companies in the county that serve areas without an EMS company within a five-minute response time. Of those seven, Fairplay is the only company that does not provide first-responder service, which consists of providing first aid and CPR services on medical calls until an ambulance can arrive, Lewis said.

Pennington said the company stopped providing first-responder service about a year and a half ago when Lewis complained about its failed response rate on medical calls.

Pennington said the real problem is that the surrounding area has not gotten any new EMS stations in the past 20 years. If needs have changed, the county should build a new ambulance company in a strategic area, he said.

Staffing and response issues at Fairplay were exacerbated in November, when at least 12 of the company's members either resigned or were told their memberships would not be renewed, Lewis said.

All 12 of those members had firefighter and driver qualifications, Lewis said. They also included the only two members with advanced life support certification, eight of the company's 10 EMTs and one certified first responder, Lewis said.

The company's personnel level is now at 22, Lewis said. It has four officer/firefighters, 11 firefighters, three fire police and 11 drivers, he said. It has two certified EMTs and four first-responders, he said. Some members are certified for multiple roles.

Commissioners Terry Baker and William J. Wivell said they did not support cutting funding or decertifying the company.

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