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As an expected deadline looms for a decision some say could cripple local volunteer emergency response service, Lake Wylie residents are speaking out for their squad.
Members of the River Hills/Lake Wylie EMS “keep hearing” decisions on contracts between the county and emergency service providers - Piedmont Medical Center and volunteer units in the county - will come in February, said squad president Dick Mann. York County Council agendas for scheduled Feb. 4 and Feb. 18 weren’t available by press time Friday.
A collection of Lake Wylie residents addressed Council at its Jan. 22 meeting, presenting a petition with more than 300 signatures from within the River Hills/Lake Wylie EMS service area in favor of the squad.
Michelle Dillon and Linda Williams said the squad was a major reason they and others moved to the area. They said a neighbor threatened to move out if the volunteer squad leaves.
“We feel very safe knowing that EMS is there within the community,” Dillon said.
Nick Rounds suffered an arterial laceration within nine months of moving to River Hills, and “would not be here” except for the squad that reached his attic to get him within five minutes of calling 911.
“These were people who were working in their yard, got on their call units and made it to my house,” Rounds said.
Whatever decision is made with county emergency response, it shouldn’t be at the expense of local volunteer units, he said.
“In my mind it would be criminal if that kind of volunteer service, that’s serving a wide area, would be eliminated for any reason whatsoever,” Rounds said. “It’s a blessing to have in this community.”
The dominate issue for more than a year now in negotiating a new deal has been about medical control, or which doctor should be used to oversee operations of various squads. Currently volunteer units have their own, but there’s discussion about having Piedmont appoint medical control countywide, which, squad members say, could altogether eliminate volunteer units.
“That provision and that appointment is neither practical, workable and it’s totally unacceptable,” said Lake Wylie resident Fred Glickman.
Count Smith told Council its seems like Piedmont is trying to take over all EMS service.
“I’d also like to know, how does Piedmont feel as though they know what’s best for the rest of the county?” he said. “How does Piedmont stand to gain with no competition?”
Lee Rowley wanted to look at mandating faster response times in the agreement. Richard Tucker called past Piedmont service to rural areas “inefficient” and said Cherry Road in Rock Hill shouldn’t be treated differently than less densely populated areas.
“Just because the dollars don’t add up in the bank doesn’t mean these people don’t deserve the same attention,” Tucker said.
Lee Kehler doesn’t believe anyone should “dominate the system” of emergency response, and is concerned with the county’s contract with Piedmont for overall service. There’s talk the remaining 33 years on the contract, which now requires periodic updates, wouldn’t be subject to review unless both parties agreed it should be.
Kehler said five years or so would be more reasonable than the larger figure that’s “unheard of today.”
“How could we look forward 33 years?” Kehler said. “We need a contract that’s more fluid and reflective of the times than something we’re locked into that long.”
Residents want a working group with paid and volunteer emergency responders, as well as firefighters, coming together to reach a workable consensus.
“We’re not planning to let this go,” Kehler said.
Mann said he hasn’t seen the new proposed contract for his group in six months, and isn’t sure what he’ll see next month.
“I can tell you what I think’s going on,” he said, “but I can’t tell you what I know’s going on.”
The local volunteer squad wouldn’t be operating today, Mann said, had some of its concerns like medical control not been addressed a year ago when contracts came up for discussion. Mann isn’t sure to what extant those issues have been addressed now.
“It certainly would be nice for us to know what’s in the contract before the County Council votes on it,” Mann said.