Published: Dec 18, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Dec 18, 2012 06:39 PM
With unacceptable ambulance response times, dangerous radio outages, and increasing tension between the countys emergency services and fire, police, other agencies, the county commissioners decided to form an Emergency Services workgroup an independent group of fire, police and rescue leaders to figure out what to do.
This action was an alternative to approving the countys $20 million proposal for excess buildings, staff and equipment. Improvements were needed but the commissioners wanted to hear from the affected agencies.
Contrary to a recent report in the Chapel Hill News, the commissioners did not approve a consultants $15.6 million Emergency Services plan. They did approve roughly $5 million in spending over the next 10 years all of which the workgroup endorsed. The rest, over $8 million for ambulance substations, went on a back burner in favor of the workgroups preferred option to co-locate ambulances at fire stations. Most of the approved funds were anticipated and included in last years capital and operating budgets.
This single change is massive for Orange County. Not only does it avoid spending millions on unnecessary buildings that take more property off our shrinking tax rolls. It opens the door to shared facilities between the county and the towns a strategy that has widespread applicability if our leaders opt to get serious about spending.
By using existing fire stations, the county can quickly act to protect the ambulances already in service. Today many of the countys $250,000 ambulances are kept at substandard locations. Many fire stations have room, and the strategy opens up the option of placing ambulances in remote parts of the county where response times have been problematic.
For example, one of the countys ambulances sits in the parking lot, exposed to the elements, at the countys solid waste office on Eubanks Road. Theres no charging stations or suitable facilities to dispose and sterilize emergency medical equipment. Less than a mile down the road is Carrboros new fire station built to house a county ambulance with impressive facilities for staff and equipment.
The county is already negotiating a contract to use a fire station in northern Orange owned by the Orange Rural Fire Department. Using similar agreements with Carrboro and other departments, the county can quickly protect its ambulances, improve utilization, and save money. Fire departments can plan new stations to include ambulance bays for a lot less than the $800,000 proposed by the consultant for a standalone ambulance station.
The real news is that the countys workgroup, led by Commissioner Earl McKee, showed that critical thinking and cooperation makes a difference. Rather than blindly accepting a report from an outside consultant, local leaders including Chief Matthew Mauzy from South Orange Rescue Squad, Chapel Hill Fire Chief Dan Jones and Eno Fire Chief Bryan Baker and New Hope Fire Chief Mike Tapp closely scrutinized the consultants findings and recommendations and offered alternatives based on their expert view of service needs and priorities, and that employs resources that are not controlled by the county. .
McKee went further. The workgroup meetings, including the discussion with the consultant, were open to the public and he allowed citizens to participate in a meaningful and open way.
The consultant is gone (with our thanks) and the workgroups deliberations are coming to an end. As a result of their groundbreaking work, local leaders are more confident that an ambulance will show up when needed and it wont cost taxpayers an arm or a leg.