Volunteers told to regain EMS license

WOODSTOCK – New Market Fire and Rescue must regain its emergency medical services license before Shenandoah County considers a deal with the agency.

The Board of Supervisors declined to fully support the department’s proposed agreement after an hour-long, often heated discussion Tuesday night among members, county officials and a volunteer representative. Instead, at least one supervisor and Chief Gary Yew, of the Department of Fire and Rescue, questioned the viability of New Market Fire and Rescue as an EMS provider.

The volunteers’ Chief Robbie Smith said he wouldn’t give up on his department and expressed support for the idea of the agency working together with state and county officials to regain the license.

Chairman David Ferguson recommended New Market Fire and Rescue work with the county Department of Fire and Rescue and administrative staff along with the operational medical director and the Office of Emergency Medical Services to obtain its EMS license. The volunteer agency’s EMS license expired Sept. 11.

Woodstock area Supervisor Cindy Bailey, who voiced sympathy for New Market Fire and Rescue, asked how long the county knew about the situation with the volunteer agency and why administrative staff did not help. Bailey cited email correspondence between officials earlier in the year, one of which indicated that County Administrator Mary T. Price would not support the volunteers’ efforts to renew its EMS license. Price responded by saying that at the time the volunteers had to correct inaccurate information on their application. The paperwork was approved, Smith said.

Smith took some of the blame for the agency’s situation and noted that he should have paid more mind to the record keeping, done up until recently by Capt. Stephanie Seekford. Smith said Seekford no longer has a license to practice as an emergency medical technician but he wouldn’t give a reason. Smith, who said he works a full-time job, joined the volunteer department about four years ago and has tried ever since to help the agency overcome some troubles it had endured.

“My goal, as chief, was to have career staff during daylight hours only,” Smith said.

The county began assigning paid staff at the station in 2007. The county now has 14 paid responders at the station running fire and EMS calls 24-7.

Smith acknowledged that the department needs more volunteers trained as EMTs and certified to run calls.

Ferguson questioned why the agency bought an ambulance for $250,000 when other volunteer departments paid much less for the same vehicles. Smith said New Market had applied several times for grants to help cover the cost. The state turned down the applications each time, Smith said. Ferguson said the state wouldn’t turn down an application unless the agency wasn’t certified. Smith said the state doesn’t guarantee grants to volunteers.

Yew said his department offers assistance to all volunteer agencies, including help with grant writing.

The chairman pointed out that the county gave more than $200,000 to the volunteer station including a local contribution of $60,000 and a reimbursement of almost $100,000 from the fee for ambulance services (usually paid by patients or insurance companies). The station received $14,000 from the state. Bailey said the station “worked for” the fee for service.

None of New Market Fire and Rescue’s volunteers can drive an ambulance to an EMS call, Yew said, citing his department’s records. Yew reiterated that volunteers responded to no EMS calls so far this year. Smith refuted Yew’s claim and showed the board a folder of what he called records of calls to which volunteers responded.

In response to Bailey’s comments, Yew said that “on rare occasions” volunteers ride along with paid staff responding to EMS calls.

“I think what we’ve got to decide (is) whether this agency is a contributing agency,” Yew said.

New Market area Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese said he opposed part of the proposal that called for the volunteers to receive money collected through its ambulance fee-for-service. Even though Yew explained that the county has a similar deal with other volunteer EMS providers, Neese still voiced concern that this provision could set a precedent given that New Market Fire and Rescue does not run calls.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com