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County suspend Emmitsburg ambulance company

Bethany Rodgers
Frederick News-Post

(4/16) Frederick County commissioners Tuesday ordered a temporary halting of rescue activity at the Emmitsburg Ambulance Co. after a fire official described response failures and deficiencies at the volunteer organization.

The suspension gives the ambulance company time to work on training more personnel and coming into compliance with minimum standards, the commissioners said. County officials will revisit the suspension in mid-June, and if there are no signs of improvement, the next step might be cutting funding for the ambulance company, said Commissioners President Blaine Young.

At this point, the county will continue to fund the company, although officials will hold some state grant money while the organization addresses its issues, the commissioners decided.

While a legal representative for the company said a withdrawal of county recognition and support would be a "death sentence" for the organization, the board members said they hope to avoid dealing a lethal blow.

"No oneís interested in giving anyone a death sentence," Young said. "We need volunteers now more than ever. The last thing we need is for volunteer companies to close."

The volunteer companyís issues came up for discussion at the request of Eric Smothers, Frederick County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association president.

Smothers said the company hasnít met the countyís minimum standards, such as having at least 10 active, trained members who live in the first-due area or within 5 miles of the station. In addition, the ambulance company has "failed to respond to the majority of dispatched calls since December," Smothers wrote in a memo. The company also needs more qualified operational officers and to make sure members have completed required physicals, Smothers added.

Because of the issues, the county recently withdrew career personnel from the Emmitsburg station and reassigned them to the Vigilant Hose Co. Smothers said the volunteer association members have reached out numerous times to the ambulance company, but Emmitsburg volunteers have not accepted their guidance.

But Ian Bartman, an attorney representing the ambulance company, said his clients were somewhat blindsided when the county pulled career personnel from their station in December. Up to that point, they hadnít gotten word that the county had found them noncompliant, Bartman said. The ambulance company hasnít had a chance to address its issues or present a defense, he said.

"Thereís been a breakdown in the process," Bartman said.

The Emmitsburg volunteers asked for some time to satisfy the countyís standards. Mary Lou Little, president of the ambulance company, said the volunteers by June 15 should have enough members living in proximity to the station, since three people are already on track to receive the necessary training. A couple of others are taking classes so they can become qualified line officers, she said.

The commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to place the company on suspension, mainly because it falls short of the 10-member requirement. However, they said they hope the volunteers can turn things around by mid-June, when they will check on the companyís progress.

In the meantime, county career personnel will not return to the ambulance company and will continue to work from Vigilant Hose, the commissioners decided. While county leaders decided against funding cuts, the company will lose out on ambulance billing revenue because it is no longer the first-due station.

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