by: Kathryn Burcham Updated:
UNION COUNTY, N.C. - Local first responders said they are being shut out of negotiations that could affect ambulance service in Union County.
Union County officials and Carolinas Healthcare System are currently negotiating a contract with private contractor Union County EMS for ambulance service.
As part of the negotiations, Union County Commissioners voted in February 2013 to allocate $75,000 to hire consulting firm Fitch & Associates to review EMS practices.
Channel 9 obtained a letter from Fitch to Union County Manager Cindy Coto that promised to review "the existing demand for services ... to clearly define the demand for services by type of call and time-of-day ..."
The letter goes on to state that Fitch & Associates would "conduct a geographic analysis of the same data ... to identify the most effective placement of resources."
Sources close to the negotiations told Channel 9 that one proposal being discussed in the wake of the consulting firm's study is to decrease the number of ambulances at night and concentrate them along the United States Highway 74 corridor.
"The people who live in the outlying areas deserve the same coverage as those who live in Monroe," said Chief Don Gaddy, with Mineral Springs Volunteer Fire Department.
The Mineral Springs fire districts are 43 square miles and Gaddy said last year his crews ran 800 calls -- of which 80 percent were medical.
His emergency technicians can only provide basic life support like CPR until a Union County EMS arrives on the scene with advanced life saving equipment and Gaddy worries how the proposal could affect EMS response times to outlying areas.
"If you're the one we're doing CPR on, it means a lot," Gaddy said.
Volunteer fire chiefs across Union County told Channel 9 they were frustrated they were not a part of the consulting firm's discussions.
"Everyone that's in the outer-lying areas is concerned about it," said Chief Devin Baucom, with New Salem Fire Department. "There's rumor and speculation and that just adds to the anxiety."
After Channel 9 began making inquiries about the proposed changes to EMS services, the president of the Volunteer Fire Chiefs Board requested a meeting with CHS and EMS officials but was denied.
In a joint statement with CHS officials, Union County Manager Cindy Coto said, "In response to significant growth in our county, we contracted with Fitch & Associates -- an industry leader in emergency services and public safety, to review our EMS program to ensure we are proactively planning for the needs of today and the future. They commended the team's current efforts and shared innovative ideas that will further enhance response times, increase community education and help us to adopt state-of-the-art technology to better serve our community. We currently are in negotiations with CHS to develop a contract that incorporates many of the Fitch recommendations from the engagement. We look forward to announcing more information once contract negotiations are complete."