Squad agreement draws concern
Published 8:27 am Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Concerns have arisen about a mutual aid agreement between the Buckingham County Volunteer Rescue Squad (BCVRS) and the Scottsville Volunteer Rescue Squad (SVRS) that took effect at the beginning of the year. However, the BCVRS Vice President said plans are underway to meet the SVRS to resolve the issues.
Katie Emanuel, who lives in Northern Buckingham, voiced pressing concerns about the agreement during the July 9 Buckingham County Board of Supervisors meeting, citing that she had to call an ambulance from Dillwyn, which took nearly a half-hour to pick up her mother in March, even though Scottsville’s rescue squad was approximately 5 minutes from her house.
Emanuel said when first making the call, she was directed to a caller in Albemarle. Albemarle then redirected her to Buckingham. Emanuel said she pleaded with the Buckingham dispatcher to let her call the Scottsville rescue squad, but the Buckingham rescue squad was eventually dispatched.
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Her mother, who suffered a heart attack, was coherent and treated by the Dillwyn responders and transported to University of Virginia hospital. However, Emanuel said her mother coded 8 minutes from the hospital, and by the time she came out of a procedure to remove a clot, it was too late.
Emanuel said it was not until after the incident she learned that BCVRS and SVRS reverted back to its mutual aid agreement established in 2003, that would require Scottsville to receive permission from its chief to respond to incidents in Buckingham County. She wondered how many others in the northern end of the county were aware of the change in response, particularly following the closure of rescue squads in Glenmore and Arvonia. Emanuel wondered if the decision by Scottsville to initially pursue the agreement was that Buckingham’s rescue squad began receiving revenue recovery. Revenue recovery allows the BCVRS to receive financial compensation for its services.
According to Emanuel, Scottsville was allegedly not being notified from Buckingham about calls where Scottsville would be considered first due, in areas around the Scottsville/Buckingham border. She also expressed concern about the squad’s responsibility to prevent similar events from happening again. The rescue squad opened as a nonprofit in 1971.
Worried about missed calls or calls that could not respond, Emanuel said during the meeting she posed the question of if her 6-year-old daughter called and said Emanuel was sick, would the dispatcher tell her no one would be there to help her?
“There are residents of Buckingham who deserve better,” Emanuel said during the meeting.
Chairman Danny Allen responded, saying that the rescue squad handles its own affairs, but said the board has a committee that is working with the rescue squad’s finances. “We’ll work on it,” Allen said. “We’re working on it right now.”
“I keep being told this is a consequence of rural living,” Emanuel said in a phone interview after the meeting. “When we moved to Buckingham County, we were very well aware of what resources were available to us.” She said they bought property for her mother to have the resources needed to grow old and die. She said she expected the date of death to be much later.
“Since the policy has gone into effect, there is nothing in the northern end of Buckingham County,” Emanuel said.
She said her concern is not meant to disparage individual members of the rescue squad, who she said did everything to save her mom. “All I want to do is fix the problem,” Emanuel said. “I don’t want someone else to have to die.”
‘GOING TO DO A NEW AGREEMENT’
BCVRS Vice President Kerry Flippen said he is intending to reach out to SVRS Chief Brian Cropp since the issue has been brought to light.
“If they want to come back to the county, it’s totally up to them, but we’re going to do a new agreement,” Flippen said. SVRS Chief Brian Cropp was not available for comment after several attempts to contact the SVRS before press deadline.
Typically, Flippen said the BCVRS and SVRS would operate through a certain pattern. If BCVRS did not have crew available to respond, the BCVRS would have contacted Albemarle, and request Scottsville’s assistance with approval from the chief.
A letter dated Dec. 5, 2017 outlined a mutual aid agreement between SVRS and BCVRS that would have SVRS only respond first due to Buckingham emergencies with permission from the SVRS chief.
“In the past Scottsville Rescue has covered a first due area into Buckingham county as far as Centenary until revenue recovery was brought to Buckingham at which time it was told to Scottsville Rescue that they did not have a first due area,” the letter cited. “If a call could be covered by a Buckingham County ambulance it would be and Scottsville would be used when needed. That process has been used recently increasing the response times of emergency care to the citizens closer to Scottsville.”
The letter cited that the policy would be in effect Jan. 1, 2018.
“Scottsville Rescue will be reverting back to the already signed mutual aid agreement with Buckingham County until further notice. Scottsville will continue to supply emergency services to Buckingham on a call by call basis if staffing allows only after it is approved by a duty officer or chief officer of the organization,” the letter cited.
Addressing concerns about the squad operations, Flippen said where emergency calls are transferred depend on one’s location in the county.
“It depends on where you are in the county,” Flippen said, adding that some factors for the calls that redirect to Dillwyn or to Albemarle include the location of county cell towers, the caller’s area code and whether the phone is a landline or cell phone.
Flippen said residents were not formally notified when the Glenmore and Arvonia rescue squads were closed in 2017. He said due to the squads struggling to recruit volunteers over the years, that the news may not have come as a surprise to residents.
“This is nothing new as far as the people goes,” Flippen said. “People in the county knew that Glenmore and Arvonia have not had enough people to manage them in probably 3 or 4 years.”
‘SERVICES MUST BE PROVIDED’
The BCVRS and Buckingham County are separate entities. While the squad presents a financial report to the county, and provides documentation to the state Office of Emergency Services (OES) Flippen said, it is not overseen by a county entity. Rebecca Carter, county administrator, said the squad has its own bylaws, officers and board of directors that is separate from the county. It also has its own liability insurance.
Flippen said the board of directors contains himself, Vice President Lisa Taylor-Jones, a captain, two lieutenants in the process of being appointed and a training officer. The county also has a rescue squad finance committee that includes Chairman Danny Allen and District Two Supervisor Don Matthews. Flippen said the county committee and the BCVRS would meet this week to discuss the issues surrounding the operations.
Carter said the county provides a $195,000 annual appropriation to assist the squad with its services. “They are licensed through the state of Virginia to operate as a volunteer rescue squad,” Carter said. The squad received $195,000 for the recently- passed FY19 budget. However, Carter said the funds have been put into a reserve, and will not be released to the squad until its financial situation improves.
“The squad as of at least the first of 2018 was having financial problems and have had some assistance with better understanding their cost recovery process better and it appears the finances are improving,” Carter said. “During the June Board meeting the Board of Supervisors voted to give authority for the release of those funds to the rescue squad committee board members (Chairman Allen, Supervisor Matthews),” Carter said. “As (o)f (Friday) none of that money has been released.”
Carter said the county provided $10,000 toward the rescue squad and $10,000 toward the fire departments to have funds for EMT courses. “I now am getting regular financial reports from the squad to assure they are staying financially strong to provide the service needed,” Carter said.
She cited a large-scale issue within the county and surrounding areas of lack of volunteers within area emergency response organizations. She said the county held an open house June 13 to recruit new squad members. “I believe the squad has received about three new applicants as a result of that open house,” Carter said. “We certainly had hoped for more.”
“The board is looking into the operation and management of the squad for two reasons,” Carter said. Listing one reason, Carter said, “The services must be provided.”
The second reason, Carter said, “Because $195,000.00 of the taxpayers money is being appropriated to the rescue squad and the board wants to make sure the squad is financially sound and they are not putting the tax payers money into a failing system.”