Originally created 10/17/01

Change to EMS gets OK



AIKEN - The Aiken County Council agreed Tuesday to dispatch the ambulance nearest to the victim for every emergency call.

The decision came after the all-volunteer Aiken Rescue Squad contended it was being overlooked even when it was the closest aid.

"It was disappointing to us that Aiken Rescue Squad was a block away, and we weren't given the call. It was given to a county ambulance coming from five miles away," said squad Director Bob Besley.

The Aiken Rescue Squad was established in the early 1970s as a search-and-rescue and body recovery group, when there was no other similar service provided in the county. By the late '70s, the group had added ambulances to their services.

Mr. Besley and his volunteers said the current practice of dispatching the nearest ambulance only with life-and-death calls put patients' lives in jeopardy because it delayed care.

Mr. Besley said the policy permits dispatchers to make life-and-death decisions when their training does not compare with that of an emergency medical service worker.

Councilwoman LaWana McKenzie voted against the agreement. She said she is concerned that the new contract will reduce the county's revenue because the county's ambulances will respond to fewer calls, which generate money.

Mr. Besley said he expects a small increase in his squad's call volume after the new contract becomes effective, but only five to 10 calls more per month.

It is the call volume of the Aiken Rescue Squad that brought the issue to a boil initially.

When the squad's call volume increased by 15 calls from 25 to 40 per month, the county said the squad was going to shut down the county's ambulance service, Mr. Besley said, because the county was losing about $160,000 per year to the volunteer group.

The squad currently answers about 40 of the county's 1,200 ambulance calls per month.

"We're a small rescue squad, running a small percentage of the calls. We just don't feel being the closest to a call will shut the county down," Mr. Besley said.

Reach Carly Phillips at (803) 648-1395.

Aiken County residents who place emergency calls will be responded to by the nearest ambulance.