SOUTH RIVER — The South River-Merrimon Fire and EMS Department will formally end patient transports at the end of the current fiscal year, Tuesday, June 30.
This is according to Chief Mason Ellis, who announced the pending change in a recent letter to county officials.
“It is with a heavy heart and much sadness that after 47 years of dedicated service to our community, with many of our members being original or almost original members that South River-Merrimon Fire and EMS is going to have to stop doing patient transports,” the letter reads.
The reason behind dropping the service is a dwindling pool of new recruits.
“The reason is due to the fact that our membership like our community is aging with most of our EMTs …being unable to respond due to health issues,” reads Chief Ellis’ letter. “The Community at large, while generously supporting us monetarily, has no apparent interest in coming out and getting involved with the work at hand. That leaves us with no choice but to give up the service.”
The South River-Merrimon Fire and EMS Department provides coverage to the South River fire district under a contract with the county.
“Their average dispatch out time is nine minutes,” Carteret Emergency Services Director Stephen Rea said at the county commission’s Nov. 18 meeting. “Their average dispatch to on-scene time is 21 minutes.”
The department has a paid staff, and after 7 p.m. employees make $50 per night, according to Mr. Rea.
The department has had 45 EMS calls this calendar year, Mr. Rea said. He added that coverage during the day is minimal. The district’s fire tax rate is 6 cents per $100 in assessed property value to cover fire and EMS services.
County officials are currently in the process of working with South River officials to hash out the details of the change.
Chief Ellis said it’s still too early to say how the county will fill the service gap once his department ends patient transport. While discussing it at their Nov. 18 meeting, county commissioners mentioned having nearby Beaufort handle coverage.
“We have some interventions that we can do,” Mr. Rea said. “One is to have Carteret County Emergency Services provide EMS coverage. This is going to be moving the existing paramedic from Davis to South River and then hiring three EMT basics to man the ambulance at South River.”
Mr. Rea said if the county opted for this, it would have to start sometime around Friday, May 1, prior to the June 30 deadline.
“The other option would be to have Beaufort EMS (who provides paramedic support in the South River fire district) have South River negotiate a contract with Beaufort and then have them start their service (in) January or (Wednesday) July 1, 2020.”
Mr. Rea said a benefit of County Emergency Services taking over patient transport is better oversight of EMS operations in South River. It would also have a greater ability to bill for services.
Mr. Rea added that Beaufort EMS already provides some backup to South River EMS., but he said it would be an increase in personnel costs for the county and Beaufort, depending on who takes over services.
Chief Ellis, along with fire and EMS officials throughout the county, agreed South River’s troubles are far from unique.
“The trend nationally is a lack of certified personnel, particularly paramedics,” Morehead City Fire and EMS Coordinator Kelly Urban said. “We have had issues and have struggled with that when we lose somebody. There is not a lot to choose from out there. When we put a job posting out we are getting few applicants.”
Beaufort Fire Chief Tony Ray said the problem isn’t limited to only young people.
“The idea of young people trying to get on or any new member, not necessarily just young, that’s a national thing,” Chief Ray said, later adding that an individual department outlook is contingent on several factors, including the community it is based in.
Chief Ellis and Assistant South River Fire Chief Charles Wallace said the population of the South River district is aging.
“The whole community at-large is basically a retirement community,” Mr. Wallace said. “There are no young people to come out and take over and carry on the service. It’s basically we’re working until we run out of people.”
Contact Dean-Paul Stephens at 252-726-7081, ext. 232; email Dean@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @DeanPEStephens.