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Volunteer association seeks to defund Emmitsburg Ambulance Co. amid management complaints

Courtney Mabeus
Frederick News-Post

(4/15) The all-volunteer Emmitsburg Ambulance Co. No. 26 could be stripped of county funding and have its services suspended due to ongoing leadership woes and failure to meet minimum standards.

Eric Smothers, president of the Frederick County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, said he will ask the county commissioners to stop the company's operations and defund it. The company received $67,932 in county funds in the current fiscal year, according to a memo that County Attorney John Mathias sent Wednesday to the board.

The ambulance company has been operating on Code 2 status since it underwent a 90-day review of ongoing problems, Smothers said; that means that the company can dispatch only for secondary ambulance calls.

The 90-day review was extended to 120 days to allow the company more time to get operations in order, Smothers said. During that time, two paid county employees, who had been placed at the station to help improve operations, were moved to nearby Vigilant Hose Co. No. 6, Smothers said, so they would not be drawn into problems with the volunteer organization.

Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services Chief Denise Pouget said the two companies are close enough that "it doesn't affect the service to the citizens."

Personnel from the ambulance company did not return phone calls Monday.

"They've known this was coming for some time now," Smothers said.

Smothers detailed his executive committee's ongoing frustration in a three-page letter sent April 7 to County Manager Lori Depies. The company has failed to respond to a majority of dispatched calls since December, Smothers wrote. The company is also violating county codes that require each fire, rescue, ambulance or first responder company to have "10 members who live in the first due area or within five miles of the station," Smothers wrote.

The company also has no qualified operational officers, Smothers said. Priorities were more about fundraising than operations, Smothers also said in the letter.

In January, the company provided the association's executive committee with a list of active members, he wrote; that list was inaccurate and included people who had not completed emergency training, some Pennsylvania residents and at least one person who lived in Mount Airy and had a medical problem. Other addresses were wrong, he wrote.

"The board felt insulted that the ambulance company would not be truthful," Smothers wrote.

The committee also found that some members had not completed physicals, as required, Smothers said in a phone interview.

The association has offered help along the way, including assistance from two chiefs that run successful companies, but those offers were ignored, Smothers wrote.

"It's like they don't want to help themselves when people tell them what they should do," he said in the interview.

This is not the first time the company has been under the association's scrutiny.

According to Smothers' letter, similar problems cropped up as far back as 1998. In 2001, an investigative panel wrote that the company lacked "basic management skills which are essential to run efficient operations," he wrote.

If the ambulance company is suspended, it can make a written request for a hearing during which it would have the burden of establishing that it meets minimum standards. According to Mathias' memo, if the commissioners choose to defund the company, commissioners would have to determine whether to seek the recovery of county-allocated money during the suspension. Among other things, commissioners would also need to figure out whether the company should receive ambulance transport fees during the time it failed to meet minimum response standards.

"I think the citizens of Emmitsburg will be better off if the company gets defunded," Smothers said. "The service would be better."

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