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Control of rescue squad transferred to Buckingham County

After almost 50 years of operation, the Buckingham County Volunteer Rescue Squad has become a victim of a dwindling volunteer base and COVID-19.

At the monthly Buckingham Board of Supervisors meeting Monday, July 13, the board unanimously approved a Memorandum of Transition between the Buckingham County Volunteer Rescue Squad and the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors.

The board also voted to relinquish all assets of the rescue squad to the Buckingham County Emergency Services Department (Buckingham EMS).

The action was the result of a decision between Buckingham EMS and the Buckingham County Volunteer Rescue Squad to transfer administrative control of the squad to the county.

County Emergency Management Coordinator Cody Davis and Rescue Squad President/Chief Kerry Flippen explained what will change in the future as the county assumes control of the rescue squad’s operations.

Fliippen said a variety of events led up to the decision. Interest in volunteerism for rescue squads is down both in Buckingham County and across the country, and working on a rescue squad is something most people are now paid to do.

While the squad lost volunteers over time, money was also growing tighter. The administrative side of the squad became more than many volunteers could handle, especially with jobs and families to also take care of.

The squad, Flippen said, is a several hundred-thousand-dollar a year business, not just a volunteer organization. In counties like Appomattox, he added, rescue squads are still run by volunteers, but paid employees are brought in to do paperwork and keep track of bills.

He added while the transition had been on the horizon for some time, the COVID-19 pandemic quickened the process. The squad’s 20 volunteers, many of whom are older, were suddenly faced with exposure to a pandemic-level virus that could affect both them and their loved ones.

With a lack of manpower and an inability to support itself financially, the rescue squad made a difficult decision in order to make sure the needs of county citizens were met; transitioning administrative control of the squad to the county.

Next year would have marked 50 years since the Buckingham County Volunteer Rescue Squad was founded.

Davis said the county would be taking a phased approach with the change.

In Phase One, Davis explained, the county’s primary goal is to facilitate and allow for volunteerism with the squad to continue, but ownership of all of the squad’s assets, including ambulances and buildings, will transition to the county. The county will then run the administrative side of things and begin making necessary capital improvements.

Phase One is active now, and will end Dec. 15 when the rescue squad’s contractual agreement with Delta Response Team (DRT) ends.

In Phase Two, the county, according to Davis, will likely continue to utilize a contracted service for one-to-two years. He said the county may continue the squad’s contract with DRT, but that contract must go out to bid first before any decisions are made.

In Phase 3, the county will aim to hopefully staff ambulances with county employees.

Flippen said the rescue squad’s current members are adamant about continuing to volunteer on the squad and recruit new members. Both Flippen and Davis said current volunteers may end up taking jobs with the county as this transition happens, but such a conversation has not happened.

Davis said he’d be fortunate if some of the volunteers ended up wanting a job with the county, and that they would make great professional providers.

With the news of the transition Monday night came a recommendation from the county’s Rescue Squad Committee to the board to schedule a public hearing to consider a 5 cent real estate property tax increase to support Buckingham EMS in its new responsibility as the county’s Emergency Medical Response Agency.

He also said the system that will be run by the Buckingham EMS after the transition will be somewhat more expensive than previous operations, as more paid staffing will be on the roads, as well as the reopening of the Glenmore station and possibly others.

The squad is also set to receive two new emergency vehicles, one made possible primarily by a grant and the other to be paid for with CARES funding received by the county. Davis said this latest ambulance will be equipped with new, updated technology to help protect both patients and providers from the coronavirus and other hazards, and the buildout of the second ambulance obtained with the grant money may offer the same.

Davis highlighted the necessary transition should not be viewed as a defeat, but as a sign of the times and the hardships faced across the country. He emphasized Flippen’s role as a leader of the rescue squad for most of its existence, working to keep the vital resource alive for as long as possible.

“I only hope to be half the leader he’s been,” he said.

In a letter distributed to the board, Flippen discussed the reasoning behind the transition and his wishes of continued support to members as responsibilities are transferred.

“To the citizens of Buckingham, thank you for your support financially and for your words of encouragement over the years,” Flippen wrote. “The thank you notes and encouraging words mean more than you will ever know. We ask that you continue to support the county in this new endeavor as you have supported Buckingham County Volunteer Rescue Squad.”