Rescue squad loses calls, volunteers

Published 9:37 pm Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Nansemond-Suffolk Volunteer Rescue Squad has lost nearly a third of its members and 90 percent of its call volume in the last six months, since a new fire department policy making it a second-run organization went into effect.

The decision by Fire Chief Cedric Scott took effect Sept. 1. Between then and Feb. 28, the squad lost 31 of its 105 members and has answered only 116 calls, less than 10 percent of the number it had answered in the prior six months.

The policy dictates that the rescue squad gets calls for emergency medical services only when all the city’s ambulances in the downtown area are tied up. Scott said in August he would be able to provide the extra staff with no extra cost by shuffling employees around. The chief said last year he made the decision because of concerns about response times and miscommunications, among other issues. Scott added recently that he remains happy with the decision.

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“I’m very pleased with how things are going,” he said. “I continue to look forward to our relationship continuing and getting stronger. I hope they continue to participate, because there’s no doubt when they’re in service they are a very important piece of our service delivery, and I want that to continue.”

Scott said the department has not added any additional staff. It has had significant overtime in the past six months, but that was mostly because of several inclement weather events and not because of the new rescue squad policy, he said.

“Our overtime is definitely ahead of where we were last year, and that’s attributed to a number of causes,” he said.

Rusty Hundley, chairman of the board of trustees of the organization, said he is proud of the members who are staying on despite getting fewer opportunities to help people.

“I am amazed at the members that are still here in spite of the fact they’re getting very few calls,” Hundley said. But, he added, the squad still is hoping for a change to the policy.

“We hope the opportunity for call volume once again presents itself,” Hundley said. “We still don’t know why we’re good enough to run a second call but not good enough to run a first call.”

Hundley said fewer volunteers are willing to sleep away from home to staff a shift when they might not get even a single call for help. As such, the squad has been able to cover only about two-thirds of the shifts it did previously, Hundley said. It used to do every night and weekend and some holidays as arranged with the fire department.

Fewer calls also means fewer opportunities to train budding emergency medical technicians, Hundley said. Trainees need a certain number of encounters with patients and must perform some procedures a certain number of times in order to earn certifications.

“Without patient volume, they’re not able to get the training they need,” Hundley said. “The opportunity to serve the community and train our students, those are the two things we do, and those are the two things that have suffered the most.”

Hundley also said the decision has hampered the volunteer squad’s fundraising efforts, already hamstrung, he said, by the fact the city sends bills to patients for volunteers’ services. The city currently funds the rescue squad with $40,000 a year and fuel for the squad’s ambulances.

“We pay for everything, and when we run a call, the city sends you a bill for it,” Hundley said. “Then we ask for a donation for something the city sent them a $600 bill for.”

Hundley said the squad continues to meet with the city and provide everything it asks for but has seen no progress toward reversing the decision.

But the squad’s not going anywhere anytime soon, he added.

“We’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing for 55 years,” he said.