During the presentation of the proposed FY19 Accomack County Budget Monday night, the supervisors held a discussion on what has become an emotional issue over the last few years. Chairman Robert Crockett stated that requests by the Saxis and Greenbackville Volunteer Fire companies for paid EMT coverage during the week are genuine and those who made them are sincere in their beliefs that these services are necessary in their communities.
The proposed budget includes two scenarios in which EMT coverage would change. The first would fund three new EMT positions. According to EMS director C. Ray Pruitt, these positions are needed to cover for full time employees who need to take leave. Pruitt said that currently some stations are short handed when someone calls in sick. He said that expanding the number of employees would be a huge help in alleviating the problem.
The second scenario would fund 6 new EMT positions. The additional EMTs would staff primarily Saxis and Greenbackville during weekday business hours. Crockett cited figures that show that in 2017 Saxis EMS had the best response time average in the county and is the only station that had no calls outside the 20 minute window. Crockett said that in 2017 all of Saxis EMS calls were answered within the 20 minute goal for response time. Greenbackville improved its response time also. Greenbackville’s response times outside the twenty minute window from 22% in 2016 to 14% in 2017.
Crockett said that the Board postponed a decision on additional EMT coverage in 2017 at the two stations to see what effect the new hospital location would have on response times county wide. Moving the hospital has resulted in shorter response times mainly because ambulances return to their home stations more quickly than when transporting to Nassawadox.
Crockett said that he favored hiring three new EMTs to provide coverage at Saxis and Greenbackville for one year. The Board would look at the stats for 2018 next year and determine if the positions would continue to be funded at that time.
Supervisor Grayson Chesser cautioned that the paid EMTs at these stations would also respond to fire calls when necessary. Chesser contends that the County should be careful to avoid backing into the paid firefighter business. By backing in, Chesser said that any decision to move toward paid firefighters should involve long term planning, rigorous debate and strong public participation. Chesser said that if the County sets precedent by sending paid employees to fight fires at one fire company, it would make it vulnerable to similar requests from other companies. While Chesser said he was not necessarily opposed to considering something like this in the future, he wants to make sure it is done with proper planning and full public participation.
Comments were also made that some fire companies consider paid EMTs “theirs” and that the EMS system needs to have the flexibility to move them to another location when needed.