With ambulance stationed in town, firefighter responses questioned

Medical calls that require a response from the Hagerstown-Jefferson Township Fire Department continue to be an issue.

Fire Chief Rick Cole told the Town Council on Feb. 6 that of 25 total calls in January, 16 were for emergency medical service, most unnecessary. In comparison, in all of the years from 2017 to 2021, the department received a total of 17 EMS calls, Cole later told Western Wayne News.

In January, he had told the council that EMS calls caused the department to exceed its 2022 budget.

In 2021, Culberson Ambulance Service ceased providing service and a countywide system of ambulance service took effect. In the old system, Hagerstown firefighters were not called out for EMS runs because Culberson’s ambulance was stationed in town.

When the countywide system started, the Wayne County emergency communications center started calling out Hagerstown Fire Department as well as the ambulance service, the same as had been done for years in the communities where there was no ambulance.

But Reid’s ambulance is also stationed in town, just as close as it was with Culberson, Cole said. He noted that Reid Health’s medics are fully qualified and provide good service. But the EMS calls mean that volunteers must drop what they are doing and respond, using fire department vehicles. Often, they are not needed.

The fire department usually sends out one truck and two or three firefighters. The department does not get paid for the runs.

“It raises our cost, fuel, personnel, equipment,” Cole said. The county pays Reid Health for ambulance service and “we’re helping subsidize them.”

Cole said he has spoken with county officials about the problem but “they’re not going to change. The town can’t afford it. Our trucks are going out all the time, it wears the trucks out.”

Cole also told the council about a recent EMS run in which firefighters were needed. Responding to a call for a cardiac arrest, firefighters Ben Loudy and Joe Favorite arrived before the ambulance and found an elderly woman “in full arrest” with no pulse. They started CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and restored her pulse. They continued working with her until emergency medical personnel arrived and took over. Later, a medic told Cole that Loudy and Favorite did a great job.

Cole said that the department “is not going to not respond” to emergencies. “That’s just not going to happen.”

Other Hagerstown council business

Hagerstown Town Council on Feb. 6 passed an ordinance revising what kinds of off-road vehicles will be allowed on town streets. It permits ATVs and UTVs on the streets under much the same conditions as golf carts, which have been allowed several years.

Council President Becky Diercks asked the town’s Airport Board to consider making preparations for a crowd of visitors for a solar eclipse on April 8, 2024. Western Wayne County will be in the path of totality. In past eclipses, thousands of visitors have descended on areas where the eclipse is at its greatest. This one is already being promoted as “The Great American Eclipse.”

It also agreed to a request from Police Chief Keith Folkner to replace 18 defibrillators in the town’s buildings and vehicles. The devices are used to restart or stabilize heartbeats. The town’s current stock is more than 10 years old; their batteries wear out about every 16 months, requiring a $400 replacement. The town will buy refurbished defibrillators for about $800 each.

Folkner announced that he made Sgt. Adam Blanton the department’s first investigator. Blanton is one of four new officers on HPD, bringing several years of experience on the Wayne County Sheriff’s Dept.

Town Manager Chris LaMar said the town applied for $177,320 from the state Community Crossings program to help pay for resurfacing of West Northmarket and South Elm streets and Paul R. Foulke Parkway.

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Bob Hansen is a reporter for the Western Wayne News.