New committee's first talks focus on Rescue Squad costs
By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — The county’s new Rescue Squad Committee says it wants to clearly define the services provided by the rescue squad and find ways to lower its costs.
The committee to review the Rowan County Rescue Squad’s funding and services held its first meeting Thursday afternoon.
Commissioners voted to establish it at their Nov. 7 meeting after disagreeing on a proposed new five-year contract for the rescue squad.
“Everybody is in agreement that the time has come to update that contract,” said County Emergency Services Director Frank Thomason. “It’s been the same since 1999. Things change.”
The committee includes Thomason, County Manager Gary Page and County Commissioners Jim Sides and Raymond Coltrain. It is tasked with reviewing funding options for the agency, discussing what services it should provide to the county and recommending solutions to the full Rowan County Board of Commissioners.
The rescue squad and the county’s volunteer fire departments are private nonprofit agencies, but they rely heavily on public funding — either through fire taxes or the rescue squad’s annual allocation.
Sides argued that this makes them accountable to Rowan County. Since 2007, he said, county funding for the rescue squad has increased from $199,000 to $412,000. He said he believes the agency is important, but he’s afraid they have “strayed from its mission.”
Coltrain said he doesn’t want to micromanage the agency, and its funding level should be determined in the same way as the fire district tax rates.
“I think these funding issues definitely need to come into play and be discussed,” Coltrain said. “But I see that being done by the full Board of Commissioners, primarily during our budget discussions later in the year.”
Page suggested that the commissioners first focus on defining what the county wants the rescue squad to provide.
“If we add up all the things we expect them to do without a doubt, then we can assign a number to it,” Page said.
The committee agreed that the rescue squad should continue to respond to specialized calls that county fire or EMS personnel can’t handle, Thomason said.
It also is dispatched automatically to calls for a car accident with pin-in. If firefighters can free the patients, the rescue squad is called off immediately.
But many of the county’s volunteer fire departments can perform light vehicle extractions, Thomason said. A few have other rescue specialties, and one — Locke — can perform heavy extractions.
Coltrain and Sides suggested that fire departments handle light extractions if they can, and the rescue squad would be called in only if dispatchers get word that heavier equipment is needed.
They also said the fire departments might be advised against using grant funds to buy their own heavy rescue equipment.
“If we’re going to depend on the rescue squad, maybe that’s where it ought to be bought,” Sides said.
In addition, the agency is called out to working — or large-scale — structure fires, where it provides rehabilitation supplies for firefighters, a mobile air supply for their tanks and basic ambulance service.
The rescue squad also serves as a backup paramedic service for county EMS when personnel or equipment is low, Thomason said.
Four or five county fire districts have their own agreements with the rescue squad for traffic accidents with injury, he said.
“To assist with manpower staffing issues, and because of the types of accidents they were having in these districts and their distance … these departments are having the rescue squad respond automatically on that type of call,” Thomason said.
Sides said he’s uncomfortable with that, and the county shouldn’t send equipment out where it’s not needed.
Coltrain said the level of service to patients “needs to be the same across the board” in Rowan County, and Sides agreed.
Coltrain suggested that the committee meet with Harold Morefield, chair of the rescue squad’s Board of Directors, and Mike Zimmerman, president of the Rowan County Fire and Rescue Association.
The group agreed to include them in its next meeting, tentatively scheduled for Jan. 19 at 1 p.m.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.