Another snub for volunteers

Published 7:41 pm Monday, April 13, 2015

If the powers that be at Suffolk City Hall don’t want the services of a volunteer rescue squad in the city, they need to simply say so. The community could then pay proper tribute to the Nansemond-Suffolk Volunteer Rescue Squad for its decades of loyal service to citizens, the squad could disband, and its members could go on about their lives.

Instead, city government seems to be choosing a course of death by a thousand policy changes, slowly stripping the squad of relevance in a community that for many years depended on volunteer responders in health emergencies.

The latest move by Fire and Rescue Chief Cedric Scott is to enforce a policy requiring responders to have higher certifications than even the state of Virginia demands. Previously, the volunteer rescue squad could send out a paramedic and another responder, typically the driver, who had basic EMT credentials. Under the newly enforced policy, at least two people with advanced credentials must be on every call. As a result, the volunteers haven’t answered a single call in more than a month.

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This follows a major change two years ago that relegated the Rescue Squad to a backup role, allowed to respond only when the city’s paid responders are on other calls.

Rusty Hundley, a member of the volunteer squad’s board of trustees, says the latest change began compromising response times on the very day it was enforced, March 9:

4At 7:38 p.m., a car hit a pedestrian on Finney Avenue. Because the volunteers weren’t permitted to respond, an ambulance from the White Marsh Road station responded — and was delayed by a train.

4At 7:53 p.m., an infant fell and injured his or her head on Wellons Street. An ambulance was sent from Kings Fork Road — a 10- to 12-minute drive away.

4Later that week, an ambulance from the Holland station — about 18 minutes away — responded to a call about sprained ankle that the volunteers could see from their Market Street station.

“Somebody needs to explain to me how that improves patient care in our community,” Hundley said.

For his part, Chief Scott told reporter Tracy Agnew that he is “certainly not happy that Nansemond-Suffolk is affected by this. That does not bring me any joy. I want to see them be a part of delivering emergency medical services in the city. I just hope we can work together to continue the discussion and do what we can.”

In that case, the ball is in Scott’s — and the city’s — court. If they want the volunteer squad to remain a viable entity, they’re doing a poor job of showing it.