Top 10 of 2017: County EMS changes continued in 2017

Published 8:05 pm Wednesday, December 27, 2017

City of Washington and Beaufort County officials started 2017 debating the future of EMS coverage in the city and some of its surrounding environs.

The debate was part of an ongoing reorganization of EMS coverage that started in 2015 when the county began an effort to provide the same level of EMS service to all Beaufort County residents. In 2015, most volunteer squads went paramedic, but after a study done by consultants revealed gaps in service in key areas in the county — Blounts Creek, Pinetown and the Bath area — the county officially launched Beaufort County EMS in February 2016, purchasing three Quick Response Vehicles and an ambulance and employing 16 paramedics and EMTs to man them in strategic spots.

In October 2016, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners voted to cancel the longstanding contract with the city for EMS service to Washington Township, an area mostly west and north of the city, in an effort to bring Washington Township under the umbrella of Beaufort County EMS. City officials pushed back, pointing out that the canceled contract not only would a $157,256 hole in the city’s budget — the amount of the contract — but would deprive the city of billing revenue, which increased the potential cost to the city to more than $250,000.

“You’re sitting here disassembling something that has worked fine for decades,” Washington Mayor Mac Hodges said in a January meeting between city and county officials.

By February, county commissioners were ready to move Washington Township EMS service over to Beaufort County EMS and in March, the potential $250,000 gap in the City of Washington’s budget from the loss of EMS billing revenue jumped to $300,000. Ultimately, the city made up for the budgeting gap by slashing its budget by $99,381, and making transfers from both the fund balance and the electric fund into the city’s general fund.

In the day-to-day of EMS service, Beaufort County Emergency Management was reorganized to incorporate Animal Control, EMS and Fire/Emergency Management under the umbrella of Beaufort County Emergency Services, headed by new Emergency Services Director Carnie Hedgepeth.

Chocowinity Volunteer Fire and EMS departments also made waves by becoming the first squad in the county to have a water-rescue boat docked fulltime at Cypress Landing Marina, allowing for faster response time during on-the-water emergencies. The 24-foot Carolina Skiff was donated to the cause by Cypress Landing resident Bob Schultz.