Surplus vehicles a big county question

Published 6:29 pm Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Two Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office vehicles will be repurposed as first-responder vehicles in Chocowinity and Blounts Creek.

In Monday night’s Beaufort County Board of Commissioners regular meeting, commissioners voted 4-3 to give Chocowinity EMS and Blounts Creek Volunteer Fire Department each a vehicle that likely would have been sold on a government surplus vehicle website. The sheriff’s office currently has 15 vehicles that it must surplus by the end of the fiscal year, according to Chief Deputy Charlie Rose.

Beaufort County EMS Director John Flemming told the Board the vehicle for Chocowinity EMS would be assigned as an additional paramedic-manned Quick Response Vehicle for the squad, while the Blounts Creek Fire Department vehicle would be for firefighters’ use when called to assist with a medical emergency.

Flemming referred to the surplus of the vehicles as ultimately cost saving to these departments, as it would allow first responders options other than “rolling out a fire truck” to a medical emergency.

The question of whether the county would be financially responsible for maintenance, insurance and more, and why the departments needed the vehicles at all was hotly debated. County Manager Brian Alligood assured commissioners that once the vehicles were given to the departments, the county would bear no responsibility for them.

There was also confusion as to why firefighters would need to respond to a medical emergency.

“My first question is: when did this board vote for fire departments to do medical services?” asked Commissioner Hood Richardson.

Chocowinity EMS Capt. Shane Grier addressed the Board, telling them that he, personally, would be using the surplused vehicle, since he’s on call all the time. No representative from Blounts Creek Volunteer Fire Department was at the meeting, though Flemming and Grier attempted to explain that firefighters are often called to medical emergencies, and will continue to be, as all county squads are currently being certified as first responders, able to do basic first aid, and have already completed training in pit crew CPR for cardiac arrest victims. Pit crew CPR involves continual chest compressions done for as long as necessary by a rotation of first responders — that way no one person becomes too fatigued to be effective.

Flemming told commissioners they had, indeed, voted to allow firefighters to respond to and assist with medical emergencies when they voted last fall to accept the recommendations of Polaris Group EMS consultant David Schrader. Schrader and Flemming spent several months dissecting Beaufort County EMS, identifying gaps in coverage and how those gaps should be filled. One of Schrader’s recommendations was first-responder certification for county squads, so that those first on any scene could perform basic medical action.

That the vehicles would be used for life-saving measures pushed the vote.

“I find it very difficult to delay on at least two of these vehicles,” said Commissioner Ron Buzzeo. “It may very well save a life.”

“I agree with Commissioner Buzzeo,” said Commissioner Frankie Waters. “Long term this is what we need to be doing. … In a farm accident, we need somewhere there, even if he’s coming in an old sheriff��s car, we need someone there.”

Richardson argued that the county should come up with a policy before it started giving away county vehicles, and that other departments would demand the vehicles being surplussed.