Public safety aid approved

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    Public safety got a shot in the arm Monday, to the tune of a $350,000 earmark to help create a paid rescue service to strengthen and support existing volunteer squads

    A $12,000 request to stock a Quick Response Vehicle (QRV), also remained intact in the county’s budget.

    After much discussion among members, and input from several speakers, the Patrick County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved allocating, but not appropriating, the $350,000.

    Karl Weiss, supervisor of the Blue Ridge District, made the motion to set the funds aside to help volunteer squads, which are struggling with time constraints, low members, intensive training and a host of other issues.

    Dan River District Supervisor Roger Hayden said he spent two years asking the board to try a stipend program, in which not more than three volunteers per call would be paid according to their training level.

    “I don’t see how paying volunteers is going to give them more time to volunteer,” Weiss said. He has said in the past he will not support a stipend program, but does support a paid system.

    Lock Boyce, supervisor for the Mayo River District, said he also supported a stipend payment plan, but more than that, “we’ve got to treat our volunteers better.”

    During some heated discussions with some volunteers, Crystal Harris, board chairman, reminded Boyce that volunteers were to be treated kindly.

    “Don’t talk to your volunteers like that,” she admonished.

    Harris, who also volunteers with the Smith River Rescue Squad, encouraged the supervisors to take action.

    “The board needs to step up and do something for the people,” she said. “We need to do something. We’ve done beat it around the bush too many times.”

    Rickie Fulcher, supervisor for the Peters Creek District, said he supports paid rescue service, thinks the county needs to increase local funding to existing volunteer squads, and pay for their training.

    A volunteer, Clint Weidhaas, said the county needs a paid EMS service. He added there are problems facing volunteers and squads “that need to be addressed now.” He also asked the board to take “a good, hard look in your heart and figure out what your priorities are” before voting on Weiss’ motion.

    Chris Corbett, a 35-year veteran volunteer, agreed with Weidhaas, and suggested “anybody who doubts the validity of what he’s (Weidhaas) is saying, please get a scanner, pager or radio and listen … to tone out after tone out after tone out.”

    Tone outs are heard when there is no response to emergency medical calls.

    Rescue volunteer Billy Aldridge said “there is no golden answer” to the problems confronting volunteer squads. He cautioned the county funds needed for a paid service would “never end,” but continue to increase each year.

    He also said paid providers “will try to root out” volunteer squad members, and that volunteer squads “get negative stuff all the time” except when they arrive to help someone. “Eventually I’ll break and won’t be able to run calls,” he said, and added the problem in call coverage is “really in this town right now.”

    “The board needs to step up and do something for the people.”  Crystal Harris

    “This is not one problem,” said volunteer Erika Cipko. Volunteer squads are “the insurance for our citizens. We haven’t even asked for a stipend, but something’s got to happen. … The problem is, you’re looking at this as a district, not a community.”

    Regardless of the district, Patrick County is a community, and the issues will be addressed only by working together, Cipko said.

    Volunteer Terri Mills thanked Steve Allen, emergency services coordinator, “for all the work he does” and for scheduling classes locally so Mills and others can attend. Mills also expressed her gratitude to Rodney Howell and other class instructors.

    The board also voted to decrease the length of time LifeCare is required to wait until they respond to a call. LifeCare is a paid medical transport service in the county. According to employee Ashley Trent, the provider currently must wait to respond until the second time countywide tones are sounded.

    Trent said the service operates two shifts in the county: an Advanced Life Support (ALS) shift, which operates from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and is on call on Sundays; and a Basic Life Support (BLS) shift, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday through Fridays.

    Supervisors also heard but took no action on two funding requests from the Patrick County Branch of the Blue Ridge Library.