The New Martinsville Volunteer Fire Department has voted to eliminate the ambulance service from the fire department.
The decision came at a second meeting after a previous, unanimous, vote of that nature was discussed at a special city council meeting. Fire Chief Larry Couch reported at the regular council meeting April 7 that the NMVFD body decided to go with their original vote on March 11.
At the special meeting on March 17 Couch cited the all-volunteer ambulance being unable to take many calls because volunteers were not available and drivers not wanting to meet additional background check requirements.
Councilman Chris Bachman said he remembered when the NMVFD decided to get into the ambulance service in 2002. "I thought it was going to be something great. It has been," he said.
"We were basically a supplemental service all along," said Couch. They estimated the NMVFD ambulance went on 150 runs per year.
Wetzel County Office of Emergency Management Director Ed Sapp said the NMVFD's EMS has been helpful. "It has been nothing but an asset," he said, adding that their presence in the community makes the 911 dispatchers' jobs easier.
Sapp further said that with the large presence of the gas industry in Wetzel County, the potential for emergency assistance is great. In the event of a mass casualty event, everyone's help would be needed.
Joyce Raper, director of the Wetzel County Emergency Medical Service, said she was willing to help get classes for additional driver. "I believe in patient care and this county," she said.
Couch further said an accusation of one of the volunteers inadvertently injuring a small child-which he said never happened-has taken its toll on the department and volunteers. "He (the accused) went through a lot of personal stress over that and other members saw it," said Couch. "I think that was one of the things that was a big contributor."
As for the background checks, Couch said he has been doing those on new NMVFD members for about two years. In one instance, Couch said it worked. Shortly after applying, one man was arrested for allegedly making terroristic threats in Jefferson County.
"I respect each and every one of you for what you do," said Councilman Steve Pallisco. We have to remember the body is volunteers. I will support whatever the body wants to do. Volunteering has dropped off everywhere because it's the 21st century."
"It was a great run for 10 years, but with a lack of volunteers and the time needed to become EMTs and what is required by the state, it's just too much for everybody," said Pallisco.
Bachman added, "There was great detail and discussion on that, It has definitely been looked at."
"They didn't come to that decision without a lot of input," said Mayor Keith Nelsen, who appreciated being invited to attend the second meeting. Couch said he and council are welcome to attend NMVFD meetings any time.
Couch clarified that the decision was not based on finances. "Financially, it sustains itself," he said.
At the April 7 meeting Couch said the department has made an offer to sell the 2008 ambulance with 11,000 miles and its equipment to the WCEMS. They made a counter offer.
"As far as I know, they have been looking to buy a new ambulance," said Couch, who added the NMVFD's offer is about one-third the price of a new ambulance.
"We want it to stay in the community," said Couch.
On another note, Couch reported at the regular meeting that March was a rough month for the NMVFD. This wasn't only because of the ambulance issue and 26 calls to which they responded, but even more importantly to the loss of firefighters K.P. Longwell and Bill Pugh. "That was a loss of a total of 83 years of experience," noted Couch.
Longwell's family has requested the NMVFD to conduct a ceremony for K.P. Longwell in May or June. They already held a ceremony for the Pugh family at the First Christian Church in New Martinsville. "I thought that was a really nice ceremony for them," said Couch.
Councilwoman Holly Grandstaff agreed, "That ceremony was wonderful."
In other fire department news, Couch said they now have 10 junior firefighters, with nine of them attending their first full training session; one missed it because of Boy Scout obligations.
The department has been working on improving the Steelton Station. Couch said they are working with prisoners from the St. Marys Correctional Center to try to get the floor drain working, which he said has never worked properly since he has been part of the department. "They're going to help us get that figured out," said Couch, who expects to have it fixed in the next couple weeks.