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Call Numbers On the Rise

PRINCE EDWARD — There has been a steady increase in call volume over the last year for Prince Edward County Volunteer Rescue Squad.

It’s gone up about 5.6 percent in 2013 from 2012 alone—there were 2,945 calls over a period spanning the year from December 2012 to December 15.

Calls run the gamut, with the most common single type of call is trauma, where someone has been injured. The most common type of medical complaint is difficulty breathing.

Over the past year, they’ve also reduced their response time.

“We have a very busy rescue squad for the size of the community and some of that is due to a large institutional population — nursing homes, colleges, detention facilities,” Squad Captain Brian Butler said.

Asked about the increase and what they would attribute it mostly to, Butler noted that they’re seeing a large increase in “what we would term non-emergency transport. People call for a lot of reasons. We’re getting more calls from people who don’t want to be transported to the hospital; they want the rescue squad to help them with something in their home and we’re trying to discourage that as much as possible. It’s not that we don’t want to help people, it’s just that if we’re helping somebody in their home, then we’re not able to respond to a chest pain, or a difficulty breathing or a car accident because we’re tied up with…the public assistance type calls. ‘I’ve fallen, can you help me get back in my chair’ type of call.”

He added, “As we are available, we have assisted with those, but (it) certainly is difficult to respond to all those types of calls so we discourage those.”

They encourage individuals, when it’s not an emergency, to transport themselves to the hospital.

“If you have any doubt about whether it’s an emergency, you should call,” Butler said. “If you’re not sure if that person is experiencing an emergency, then please go ahead and call us. We don’t want anybody to die because a person thought that they didn’t want to bother 911. We certainly want to be there for people when they need us.”

If someone has a problem with their airway, having problems breathing, problems with circulation or they’re bleeding a lot, if they have problems with mentation (cognitive functions) that’s new or unexpected, Butler said, “…those kinds of things all are indicators that you need to call for an ambulance.”

Having paid personnel, they have been able to double the number of calls where they have an advanced provider (or more highly trained), which he offered provides better care for their patients.

Volunteering

Becoming a volunteer often starts with a single step, but taking it can lead to a lifetime of helping others.

Butler is one of many who have chosen to take that step. He initially joined the fire department as a freshman at Hampden-Sydney. He decided to take an EMT course offered at Prince Edward’s rescue squad and chose to join them in February of 1989.

He’s still at it today.

“…I get a lot of sense of accomplishment from doing it,” Butler said. “You’re involved in things that most people don’t ever actually get to see or do. Some of it’s horrible. Sometimes, it’s something very terrible that you have to deal with, but a lot of times…you’re helping people, you’re getting them to the point where they can (get) to the hospital. You’re improving their condition…Maybe even it’s helping them die with a little bit of dignity, but you’re able to help people in a very great way and see…the results of that immediately. And that’s very satisfying.”

Butler isn’t alone in his desire to help. It’s a pull that draws from all walks of life. He is an attorney, but on the rescue squad there’s police officers, teachers, college students, paid EMS providers in other localities…

“There’s something that motivates people to come out and do this,” Butler said. “You know it’s a lot of training, there’s no difference between the training level that an individual who is a volunteer undergoes and the training that an individual who is a paid provider undergoes. It’s exactly the same. You have to meet the same standards, you have to go through the same testing, you have to keep all of your certifications up. There’s no difference.”

And then they’re taking time away from their family and doing it for no pay.

But there is a lot of value in it.

There’s the first time in delivering a baby or find a patient in cardiac arrest, bring them back and have them walk up to you later and say “thank you.”

“It’s…really an amazing thing,” Butler said.

Having paid personnel has enabled the squad to have advanced providers (or more highly trained individuals) on a greater percentage of calls.

Although the squad has two paid crews ready to roll most days, volunteers pay a key roll. Each pulls a six-hour duty shift per week, plus they must attend two meetings a month. There’s also toned-out calls for additional crews when needed.

And there are many times when they need a third or a fourth crew to respond.

While Butler notes it’s not for everybody, they encourage people to come down and maybe do a ride-along and see if it’s something they would be interested in.

Anyone interested in volunteering can contact the department at 434-392-6973.

On The Horizon

The calendar is about to turn for a new year, but the squad isn’t standing still waiting for the Times Square ball to drop. Butler noted that they have an ongoing program to potentially minimize response times. Their average response time meets national standards, he points out, but because they cover such a large geographic area, it needs to improve into the other side of Rice, Prospect, and south of Hampden-Sydney to cover those areas more completely.

A long-term goal, Butler cited, is to look at substations in those areas. But they will also have to find a way to fund that.

“…We do revenue recovery, that’s covering our current costs, but there is not much left over to do additional projects. So we need to come up with funding resources so that we can expand and make those changes that benefit the people in the county,” he said.

Staffing coverage is adequate, Butler said. They need to find a way to move ambulances closer to where the calls are in some cases. In addition to substations, they would need additional personnel as well either in volunteers or paid staff to keep the locations operational.

They have also been focusing on cardiac care and have put into service a device that performs CPR and dramatically improves survival rates. They also transmit EKGs to the hospital. (See related story page one.)

County Supervisors agreed to increase the funding for area fire departments at their December meeting and increased monies to area EMS as well. For Prince Edward, that will mean an additional $6,000.

“It’s wonderful. We think that’s…being very generous,” Butler said. “We’re glad that…(they) have stepped up and are providing some additional funding.”

He added that they know budgetary times are tight but they think the fire departments and the rescue squad represent a good investment for the county.

And the cost of all activities continues to rise.

Squad Care

Now is also the time for area residents to join Squad Care, which helps cover unexpected costs associated with ambulance transport to the hospital.

“If your insurance declines to pay for it, or if you don’t have insurance, then this will help to prevent any unnecessary expenses associated with it. Ambulance transport can be very expensive,” Butler said. “Ambulances are expensive. The equipment on them is expensive. Staffing them with paid providers is expensive. And, as a result, this would help to protect you if you lose your insurance for any reason or if you have a co-pay but you don’t know what it will be. And it’s relatively inexpensive.”

Or $35 a year.

And it takes the worry out of calling for help.

Funds raised from Squad Care are used to fund co-pays and/or transport costs for those who utilize it; whatever is left over goes toward specific designated projects.

“We need some help on Squad Care,” noted Squad President Bill Hogan. “Squad Care is running a little behind this year. As of today, we’re about 600 families behind…and that doesn’t really make sense because of all the insurance possibilities out there now. Squad Care can save households tons of money.”

(Check last Friday’s edition of The Herald for an application. Application forms are also available at the Squad building, or by calling 434-392-6973. For questions, call 434-547-4911.)