Fire Companies Reach Agreement In Ambulance Service Dispute
The Needmore Volunteer Fire Co. and Hancock Rescue Squad have appeared to reach a mutual agreement on the Maryland-based company again providing advanced life support services to residents of Bethel Township.
A packed room comprised of concerned citizens, the Bethel Township Board of Supervisors and fellow emergency responders gathered last Tuesday to hear why a change in what is known as a “box card” utilized by 911 dispatchers resulted in the removal of the advanced life support services (ALS) in southern Fulton County and how the matter could be rectified.
County Planning and Mapping Director Mary K. Seville pointed out the box card system was initially put into place across the entire county in 1999 in preparation for the new 911 system. The card, according to reports, dictates which and how many fire and ambulance companies will be dispatched on a call as a result of the type and location of the distress.
However, due to a question surrounding proper Pennsylvania certification, Hancock Rescue Squad’s duties overseen by Chief Stephen Barnhart were altered as of June 2010. In addition to being limited to chase units on motor vehicle collisions on Interstate 70, Barnhart noted the squad’s running assignment was also reduced to providing an ALS chase unit on the south side of Interstate 70. Furthermore, ALS transport and chase were totally eliminated on calls north of Interstate 70. The company’s boundary line on calls has typically been Bard’s Auto Sales just south of Needmore.
Barnhart told the crowd on September 7 that he became concerned when he started receiving telephone calls two to three weeks ago from local residents questioning why Hancock was not responding to certain calls in the area. The individuals calling, Barnhart shared with the “News,” either had been part of an emergency at their home or knew of someone who had an emergency.
“I came straight here to find out the truth,” Barnhart said.
Meanwhile, Needmore Volunteer Fire Co. Chief Kenneth “J.R.” Sigel III contends Bethel Township has always been a “Company 55 box.” The proposed change in the box card system was reviewed and signed off by township supervisors Ray Powell, Mark Remsburg and Charlie Poole.
Sigel stated Hancock Rescue Squad was legal serving in the capacity of mutual aid. The issue reportedly changed when being first due on the scene and not possessing proper certification, which typically varies from state to state.
Following a brief discussion between the two chiefs last Tuesday, those on hand learned the certification matter had just recently been rectified, prompting Chief Sigel to announce the restoration of Hancock’s ALS service for the purpose of dual response in Bethel Township. NVFC will still be considered first due for basic life sup- port (BLS) services.
Sigel reiterated it was never NVFC’s intention to cut off Hancock or push them out of the area. He touched on safety issues of having so many pieces of apparatus on a scene and reminded those in attendance of how far NVFC’s emergency services have come over the years.
He also noted that even though Hancock is closer, it doesn’t always imply they’re faster.
“If my department can’t handle a single motor vehicle accident, a brush fire or a car or pickup truck fire, then we shouldn’t even be a fire department,” Sigel added.
Diane Younker, who oversees special education services at the Southern Fulton School District, questioned if a call went out the following day from Southern Fulton Elementary would they be able to get ALS from Hancock Rescue Squad. “We support all companies, but we need to make sure all of our children are safe,” Younker stated.
“I’m just concerned who can get there the fastest and provide the best care,” responded Sigel.
Hancock Rescue Squad Treasurer Doug Shaw stated his company is no better than Company 56 out of Mc- Connellsburg, which received accolades for always being prompt in responding to calls. “We just want to give the best care ... ,” he concluded.
Even though the issue of ALS service seemed to be taken care of early on in the meeting, the discussion lingered for quite some time last Tuesday, with emergency responders moving on to topics ranging from fellow responders giving one another respect on scene to dispatching.
Husband and wife Bob and Lisa Fleegle of Tollgate Ridge Road, Thompson Township, noted Washington County covers their area. With Bob and Lisa Fleegle serving in the respective capacity of firefighter and EMS training officer for NVFC, the couple asked if calls on Tollgate Ridge Road could be sent over the airwaves so they could lend a hand to any neighbors in distress.
“We’re all here to provide the best and fastest service,” said Bob Fleegle, who noted he doesn’t sit at the firehall, and it would only take him a minute to get out of the house and respond. It was agreed Barnhart and Sigel would look into the dispatch issue to help provide better service.
Other NVFC members on hand at the September 7 Bethel Township Board of Supervisors meeting were Deputy Chief Mike Hann, Second Assistant Chief John Beatty and Lt. and company President Wavy Kirk. Representing Hancock were Hancock Rescue Squad President Ernest Truax and secretary Beth Fields. Hancock Fire Co. Chief Greg Yost was also in attendance to give comment and was accompanied by company President Bill Gangloff.