W.Va. officials question safety of 2 EMS companies speeding to same calls

The two ambulance companies were allowed to serve the same area due to one of the agencies being understaffed


Tina Alvey
The Register-Herald, Beckley, W.Va.

LEWISBURG, W.Va. — Controversy continues to swirl around ambulance service in the western end of Greenbrier County.

The issue was once again on the county commission’s agenda last Tuesday, just two weeks after officials thought they had resolved the problem by allowing White Sulphur Springs Emergency Medical Services Inc. to bolster an undermanned Quinwood EMS unit that had been struggling to respond to calls for an ambulance in a timely manner.

Following that previous commission meeting, representatives from the two EMS companies met with Mike Honaker, the county’s director of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, to hash out the details of the new arrangement. It was ultimately decided, Honaker reported Tuesday, to have 911 dispatchers “dual-tone” all calls for ambulances in that broad region.

But that solution gave rise to the “unintended consequence” of competition between the two ambulance companies to be the first to arrive on the scene, Honaker said. He termed that “racing the calls” and said the speeding ambulances created a potential public safety hazard on the roads.

Commissioners agreed that the dueling ambulances created by the dual-toning of the two companies for a single call were not tenable. Officials agreed to separate Quinwood’s previous territory into two zones, with the dividing line cutting across W.Va. 20 North and bisecting Anjean Road. Quinwood will be dispatched to all calls north of that line, and White Sulphur will handle the southern calls, including those originating in the vicinity of U.S. 60 from Sam Black to the county’s western edge.

Quinwood EMS’s area will include the town of Quinwood and several unincorporated communities. White Sulphur EMS’s territory will include another cluster of unincorporated communities as well as the towns of Rupert and Rainelle.

Commissioner Tammy Tincher, who lives within the area in question, proposed the geographical division.

“This is a personal safety issue. That is my top priority,” she said. “I’m not comfortable removing Quinwood (EMS) from its duties.”

Honaker had told the commissioners that they either needed to split the territory into two zones or to drop Quinwood EMS from 911’s call list.

While she opposed dropping Quinwood, Tincher said she remains concerned about the ongoing issue of the Quinwood unit responding to “private calls” that are not being routed through the county’s 911 center. She said even non-emergency calls should go through the proper channels in order to maintain the system’s integrity.

The vote to cleave the county’s west end in half was unanimous, but both Commissioner Mike McClung and commission President Lowell Rose expressed reservations about the less than Solomonic outcome.

“The people of the west end deserve a lot better service,” Rose said, noting he doesn’t believe the problem has been resolved.

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©2020 The Register-Herald (Beckley, W.Va.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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