Rescue squad volunteers say they were shut out of negotiations

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comApril 18, 2013 

— Volunteer emergency responders left a contract negotiation meeting not long after they arrived last night, denied a seat for most of the discussion on future ambulance services.

“We weren’t allowed to participate,” said Brian Murphy, an attorney and board member with Fort Mill Rescue Squad. “We understand that we will be allowed to participate at some point in the future.”

A committee led by York County Councilman Joe Cox is working out an agreement with Piedmont Medical Center that includes how ambulance dispatch and service will operate for more than three decades after it’s signed. The full Council took up the issue more than a year ago and delayed it already several times.

Once an agreement comes out of committee, the full Council will decide on it.

“I think we’re getting closer,” Cox said Wednesday morning. “At the end of the day we’re going to have to come up with an even keel. We’re not going to please everybody.”

Throughout contract negotiations, volunteer agencies argued that certain proposals could harm or even preclude their operation. Board members from River Hills/Lake Wylie EMS, Fort Mill Rescue and Rock Hill Rescue Squad showed up Tuesday night in York for a meeting, but after 15 minutes were told the group would go into executive session.

“We basically went down there and had no input or say into what’s going on,” said Dick Mann, president of the River Hills group. “How can we operate if we don’t know what’s going on?”

Staying for the closed session were Councilmen Cox, Bruce Henderson and Michael Johnson, along with representatives from Piedmont and the sheriff’s office. Cox said he expects one more meeting mid-May before bringing the contracts back to Council. Johnson (R-Dist. 1) represents a large section of Fort Mill Township.

Cox also echoed past statements from several Council members, saying there’s no desire to harm or do away with volunteer response agencies.

“As long as everybody’s on the same playing field, you’re not comparing apples to oranges,” he said.

Mann said he hasn’t seen an official copy of proposed contracts since early February, but knows there have been changes since. Murphy said he saw a proposed contract late last week. Both men expressed concern about a variety of issues, including how ambulances will be located throughout the county and by what group. Liability also is a concern.

“There are challenges with that document, with any of the volunteer agencies,” Murphy said.

Murphy credits Council members throughout the process with “good, open dialogue” and is optimistic his group will be allowed more participation moving forward. Mann said he believes Council is “legitimately trying” to maintain volunteer units despite what he calls a “dominant influence” by Piedmont, currently the county’s only hospital service provider.

Mann hopes his group and other volunteer units will have continued say in contract talks before a final version is all but done, giving them an “accept it the way it is or pack our bags and go home” decision.

“People need to know what is going to happen before it happens,” he said.

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