Fire chief defends decision

Published 9:43 pm Thursday, September 5, 2013

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Chief Cedric Scott gave a report Wednesday night on his decision to make the Nansemond-Suffolk Volunteer Rescue Squad a second-run organization, meaning volunteers would respond to medical calls only when the city’s Medic 1 ambulance is on another call.

“I could not allow the unacceptable behavior of Nansemond-Suffolk Volunteer Rescue Squad to continue any longer,” Scott said.

He outlined his side of the issues. The squad, he said, has lost and damaged equipment; has miscommunicated at critical times; has failed to be on duty for its shifts on time on nine occasions since May; had one provider who inappropriately acted in a supervisory capacity on a call; and generally had not been accountable.

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“Unfortunately, their consistency and dependability has now reached an unacceptably low level,” Scott said.

The fire chief also said the issues have been pervasive for some time.

“Past administrations have covered for them,” he said.

Scott claimed he was not shutting the squad down, though volunteers say the decision to demote the squad to second-run status will result in so few calls in a month that most members are likely to leave the organization.

“If Nansemond-Suffolk Volunteer Rescue Squad goes away, it’s their choice, not mine,” Scott said.

City Council members generally showed support for the chief after his remarks.

“People always have a tendency to have a problem with change,” Councilman Roger Fawcett said, adding he had gained “perspective” since speaking in favor of the volunteer squad at the last City Council meeting. Scott and City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn had met individually with each council member last week.

“There’s no way we can live with having those deficiencies,” Fawcett added. “The liability is too great.”

Mayor Linda T. Johnson said public safety is her top priority.

“There is nothing good in life if we’re not safe,” she said. “You have my utmost respect and support.”

Councilman Mike Duman said it appeared the decision was “made with considerable forethought” but that he was disappointed in the process.

In a phone interview Thursday, Scott said he still believes there is a place for the volunteers in the city’s emergency services.

“Believe it or not, I still have confidence in the rescue squad,” he said. “I still believe that, and I still believe in the relationship.”

He said the squad, as of noon Thursday, has responded to four calls since the change went into effect Sunday. He added it was too soon “to give a fair assessment of how things are going.”

On Thursday, volunteer rescue Chief Jeff Brittingham took issue with some of Scott’s comments, particularly that past administrations had covered up problems.

Brittingham said past fire administrations have supported the squad and covered calls when a volunteer was stuck in traffic, “the same way they would do if one of their people were stuck in traffic and they held over someone from the previous shift.”

“There was just a mutual agreement that was always understood,” Brittingham said. “There was no cover-up. I was outraged he would make that statement about Chief (Ed) Taylor or Chief (Mark) Outlaw. I’m not exactly sure which one he was referring to.”

Barbara Smith, who does schedules for the volunteer squad, denied the squad has failed to cover its station nine times since May. However, since the changes were instituted, “we’re starting to lose providers left and right,” she said, adding they were going to volunteer organizations where they could run calls. “I don’t know how long we can keep this up.”

Smith also said the provider Scott accused of inappropriately acting in a supervisory capacity has been a supervisor for years.

“He’s kind of rewriting his own rules,” Smith said.