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Lancaster County will phase out operations by its two rescue squads in coming months in favor of rescue services provided by local fire departments.
County Council gave its tacit approval to the long-discussed fire rescue model in this year’s budget, which redirects direct funding for the independent nonprofit Indian Land and Lancaster rescue squads to county fire services to start the process.
The shift in services began immediately with a $300,000 rescue budget for equipment purchases and should be completed by late 2014 or early 2015, Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis said.
“This is certainly not meant as a slam to the rescue squads,” Willis said. “There are two rescue squads for the entire county and there are 18 volunteer fire departments, plus the Lancaster Fire Department.
“It’s simple numbers,” he said. “If something happens and extrication equipment is needed, you can get a faster response from a fire department.”
Lancaster County’s rescue squads cover a total area of 554 square miles and a population that now numbers more than 81,000 residents.
The Lancaster Rescue Squad is located at 1356 Great Falls Highway; the Indian Land Rescue Squad at 8290 Charlotte Highway (U.S. 521).
Lancaster County EMS Director Clay Catoe illustrated the problem of coverage in some parts of the county using a hypothetical Lancaster County Rescue response to the southeastern community of Charlesboro.
“First they get paged, then they have to go to the station and pick up the truck and equipment and then the drive out there is a good 25, 30 minutes,” Catoe said. “This is the way the county has operated for years.”
In addition to motor vehicle accident extraction, the squads also provide high and low angle rope rescue, water rescue, confined space rescue, ground search and rescue and hazardous materials response through the county’s multi-agency Specialized Tactics and Resources (STAR) Team.
Indian Land’s rescue squad provides coverage for the unincorporated community of more than 21,000 residents.
The squad provides both rescue and patient care and transport since it has state certified ambulances.
Catoe said the two rescue squads will remain in operation until the changeover. Residents will see no change in services even after the shift.
The STAR Team will continue to operate and Indian Land’s rescue equipment, boat and ambulances will remain in the community.
“None of the services on the north end will be touched whatsoever, they’ll just be operating under a different name,” Catoe said.
Catoe said members of both Lancaster and Indian Land rescue squads have been given the opportunity to transfer to a fire department or EMS Auxiliary, which will allow them to continue volunteering for rescue duty.
“We have appreciated the volunteers for years,” Catoe said. “I’ve been a volunteer myself for years and I know the hard work, dedication and passion to do something for free.
“I hope those who currently volunteer with EMS will continue to volunteer with the county to maintain the passion they have,” he said.
The decision to change the county’s rescue operations has been a topic of discussion among members of the county’s Needs Assessment Committee for several years, said Lancaster County Councilman Brian Carnes.
The committee is comprised of leaders from the Lancaster County and city of Lancaster emergency response and public safety agencies.
Carnes said County Council’s Finance Committee, which he chairs, decided to act on the needs assessment committee’s rescue recommendation now because the county paid off the last $250,000 bond payment on new ambulances last year, which freed up funding.
According to Carnes, while better coverage for county residents is the bottom line, there were several reasons Council embraced the change.
Among them, he said, is that County Emergency Management already requires firefighters to be on scene before automobile extractions begin and several fire departments, such as those in Indian Land, have been doing their own vehicle extractions for at least two years.
Carnes said other major factors included having to pay overtime for responding Indian Land Rescue Squad members who are also EMS employees and problems ensuring Lancaster Rescue Squad members were up to date on their rescue certification and training.
“I’ve had a few emails and I said change is never easy, but in the long term, when we look at what’s been put in place, I think it’s going to be the best for everybody in the county,” Carnes said. “I don’t think services will decrease in Indian Land and in other parts of the county.”
Indian Land Rescue Squad President Scott Craton did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the changes and officials for Lancaster Rescue could not be reached by press time Thursday, July 10.
Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151