By Stan Welch
A meeting of the Anderson County Public Safety Committee Monday morning became a long drawn out affair that extended a half hour beyond the scheduled time for a budget workshop to start. An extended exchange of views concerning the pending EMS contract was the cause for the delay.
The meeting, chaired by Councilman Ray Graham, began with an executive session that lasted more than a half hour, during which the contract was reviewed and discussed. The committee, made up of Graham, District One Councilman Craig Wooten, and District Six Councilman Ken Waters, announced to approximately a dozen members of the rescue and EMS community that the proposed contract would be presented to the full Council at their Tuesday meeting.
Earlier indications from the county administration had hinted at a full year’s extension of the existing contract to allow the further study and preparation of a new contract; that possibility was quickly dashed by Graham’s statement that a month’s extension would be offered to allow the various providers to review the draft document.
Several aspects of the contract were mentioned during the meeting, including the provision that would impose fines on the various providers for failing to meet performance requirements. For example, a squad or station which failed to have the contracted number of units in service, and which failed to answer a call as the result, could be fined. Graham did challenge the level of those fines in the existing contract, saying that they could be more than punitive for some of the smaller squads. He suggested a fine of fifteen hundred dollars for the first infraction, with a two thousand dollar fine for the second offense, and a review of the contract itself for a subsequent failure.
Graham made it very clear that while the various squads have to work together to provide coverage when various units are committed to response, each unit’s primary and contractual duty is to its home service district. “At the end of the day, we have to manage the allocation of resources and where these ambulances are. The responsibility of every squad is to provide service to their area.”
Greg Shore, county coroner and owner of Medshore ambulance service, reminded the committee that his company, which continues to dispatch its units independently from the county 911 system, has proposed a memorandum of understanding with the county that would install one of his dispatchers in the central dispatch facility so that greater coordination of the two dispatchers woud be possible. Medshore’s independent dispatch system has been a source of tension among the various squads.
The stated intent of the county to put ambulance units at the Ebenezer and Williford sites which currently are served by Quick Response Vehicles, or QRVs, sparked a heated discussion and also led to the extra length of the meeting. The Williford fire chief made it clear that he and his board of directors had not been included in the process of deciding about the ambulance. “We were fully involved in planning for the location of the QRV when it was decided to put one there, but we have not been involved here. You need to present us with a plan and let us respond.”
Committee Chairman Graham reminded the chief that when the QRV was assigned to that site, the original request by the board was for an ambulance. “I’ve never seen such resistance to such an improvement in service. We believe that we have the funding to replace those two QRVs with ambulances, and I see that as a win-win situation.”
Following a lengthy and sometimes acrimonious discussion, Graham had to adjourn the meeting so that the workshop could convene. The draft of the contract was to be presented to the full Council at their regular Council meeting Tuesday night.