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Low response times prompts county to move towards career EMS

Prince Frederick, MD – Following backlash from the Calvert Emergency Medical Services (EMS) community, the county commissioners elected to hold a special meeting to work with local EMS leaders on the budget allocation for Career (or paid) EMS Staff.

The complaints by the emergency volunteers varied but had a similar theme, revolving around a lack of communication between the county’s EMS and the commissioners. The plan the volunteers had issue with was voted on and approved in late April, creating two Advanced Life Support (ALS) chase units and an EMS Supervisor position, working 10 hours a day seven days a week. The Commissioners’ $2.3 million for the Career EMS Division more than halved the $5.8 million allocated in the Staff Recommended budget.

One of the largest concerns expressed by the volunteer spokespeople present was not having the paid ALS crews available 24 hours a day. The need coincided with a common sentiment expressed by the four volunteers on the panel that the volunteers are tired and overworked. “Fire service is not growing with the county… You can give us all the apparatus in the world but if you don’t give us people to fill them, guess what’s not happening. That 24/72 schedule we ask for is something we desperately need,” explained Joseph Ford, Solomon’s Volunteer Rescue Squad and Fire Department Associate Chief.

Ford explained that the volunteers at the southern end of the county have “put 744 man-hours into the Tiki Bar opening and one concert” alone, with more to come as summer rolls around.

The presentation by Public Safety Director Jacqueline Vaughan gave some of the history for why the county’s EMS system requires the implementation of career personnel and the steps taken thus far to get there. Some of the numbers referenced from the presentation multiple times included a 24% increase in “fire-rescue-EMS calls” since 2013 and a wide range of response times for both Basic and Advanced Life Support (BLS and ALS).

ALS response times are held to a 10-minute standard that is met, at most, 63% of the time in Prince Frederick. Calvert ALS Chief Chris Shannon explained that as you move further out from the center of the county, response times take a drastic hit. Moving just one volunteer station north or south from Prince Frederick drops the response times by around 30%. Go to the edges of the county and you face 14% in Solomons and 8% in North Beach. The single digit response times have “significantly” affected North Beach Fire Chief Chris Mills who said he “can’t guarantee an ambulance will come to help out of North Beach.”

The commissioners sympathized with the problems the county’s volunteers were facing but had apprehensions about what implementing career EMS means for the future of the county. “It’s visibly easy to see you’re physically exhausted… One of the fears I have is if we’re walking down the road of becoming a 100% paid EMS service,” shared Commissioner Mike Hart [R-District 1].

To meet their needs, the volunteers’ proposed several options to the commissioners that varied in number of crews, hours, and new “apparatus” or vehicles/equipment. Bill Freesland, Fire Rescue-EMS Association President, stated that the volunteers looked to Charles County for guidance in adding career EMS crews. The group worked on options for the commissioners until the evening of the meeting, proposing them to the commissioners as alternate solutions to the one in the proposed budget.

After deliberation from the commissioners and a unanimous approval from the panel of volunteers, the two groups were able to leave the two-hour meeting on much better terms then they were following the budget originally proposed by the commissioners. The option that passed on a 5-0 vote includes 25 career ALS positions, two ALS ambulances, and 24/7 support, giving the county full coverage for $869,000 more than the commissioner’s original proposed budget.

The commissioners then adopted the FY 2020 budget the next day, but it will not be until around October that the career EMS hires will be on board and integrated into the county’s EMS system.

The approved budget will be implemented in July and can be found here for additional information.

Contact Jerold at staffwriter@thebaynet.com.

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