It’s the end of an era in Madison County as supervisors officially vote to dissolve the Madison County Rescue Squad (MCRS) as an emergency medical services agency.
Last week, supervisors signed a resolution dissolving the volunteer service organization. The move came nearly two weeks after supervisors sent a letter to MCRS leadership notifying the group that the county was terminating the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two for cause.
The MOU was signed in late November of last year following months of discussions between the two entities. The document combined MCRS with Madison Emergency Medical Services (MEMS), commonly referred to as the county’s paid squad, under the leadership of director Noah Hillstrom. The county was to pick up the maintenance of equipment and pass revenue recovery funds to the volunteer squad for basic life support calls. The county was to also continue to contribute the annual $100,000 allocation to MCRS subject to availability and appropriation of funds beyond the first year. Virginia Office of Emergency Medical Services certified squad volunteers would dually affiliate with MEMS and would need to be conditionally approved by Hillstrom and the county operational medical director before being cleared to respond to calls. The MOU became effective Dec. 1.
However, in the letter sent to MCRS officials Aug. 12, the MOU wasn’t being followed. County attorney Sean Gregg wrote that the agreement was in significant breach, putting the lives of Madison County residents at risk and the county would be ending its relationship with MCRS. Violations listed in the letter included a lack of available ambulances in service; staffing and competency issues including failure to provide the required staffing report to the county by the 20th of each month; and not taking advantage of training opportunities and the failing of skill drills for basic life support. According to the letter, of the volunteers who took the test, only four successfully completed it and as of Aug. 10, only four members were eligible to run calls with just one being a released EMT. The letter also stated that an unqualified rescue squad was in service at the Independence Day event at Graves Mountain Farm and Lodges though none of the members present were qualified to administer basic life support or drive in the event of an actual emergency. In addition, at the motocross event at Graves, MCRS personnel “failed to provide effective resource management or situational awareness” when a participant injured their leg. At the Madison County Fair, MCRS members allegedly displayed a lack of professionalism by drying pants on the ambulance hood, allowed an ambulance to be boxed in, stood around a patient eating ice cream while only one EMT provided service and got into a loud verbal disagreement amongst each other.
“In conclusion, these deficiencies are to the point where the only remedy is the dissolution of the Madison County Rescue Squad as an operating entity providing medical services in Madison County,” Gregg wrote. “This decision is made with regret, but the continued needs of the Madison County citizens take precedence over the historical presence that the [MCRS] has had. Madison County remains thankful and grateful for the years of service, but the time has passed for the [MCRS] to stop serving as an emergency services provider in the county.”
According to MCRS leaders, every volunteer had received the required training and certification from the Commonwealth of Virginia and the letter received from the county was without any prior discussion. They said for 58 years, volunteers and auxiliary members have undertaken emergency efforts, pulling themselves away from family functions, holiday celebrations and regular activities to serve the community. They recognized all those who have served and those who have supported the squad in financial and other ways. Part of that support has been making donations for a new facility. The county contributed $600,000 to the cause over the course of several years, all of which will be transferred back. As for the private donations from citizens, the squad plans to be in contact with donors about those. Nonprofits are required to return donations made for a specific cause or purchase that is no longer valid unless the donor agrees to put the funds toward a different cause.
MCRS leaders also plan to work with the public and the organization’s remaining membership as to plans for the group moving forward.
“While this is not the outcome we would have desired, it is now the reality,” leaders said. “As we deal with that reality, we wish the best for those individuals who will continue to provide for the safety and welfare of the public confronted with emergencies and we can only hope that all of those people and organizations will be as successful in carrying out their mission over the next 58 years as the Madison County Rescue Squad has been over the previous decades.”
In the county’s resolution dissolving the squad as an emergency services provider, supervisors pointed to the changing nature of volunteerism which contributed to the downfall of MCRS.
“It’s not the county’s fault; it’s not the volunteers’ fault; it’s not the EMS’ fault,” board of supervisors chairman Clay Jackson said. “The change in volunteerism has become cumbersome at this point.”
He said the squad has been a vital part of emergency services in the county, something the county’s resolution points to as well.
Supervisor Carty Yowell said while his heart told him to vote against the resolution, the facts couldn’t be denied as well as the oath he took as a supervisor to uphold public safety.
“I think the time has come,” he said. “I hope many of the volunteers will continue to assist the paid staff. This breaks my heart.”
MCRS President Steve Grayson said at least nine squad members have made an application to MEMS. Like Yowell, he said the resolution also breaks his heart.
The resolution was approved 5-0.