Volunteers speak out about problems with EMS

Published 9:43 pm Thursday, January 24, 2013

First responders spent hours overnight at an emergency call in Saluda in April last year. Volunteers said they feel training issues overshadow their committment to the work. (photo by Samantha Hurst)

A number of first responders who volunteer their time within Polk County’s emergency medical system said the Polk County Board of Commissioners made the right decision in seeking a replacement for outgoing medical director Dr. Allison Owens.

“I’m almost tickled pink to see her go,” said Nicholas Edwards, who works full-time as a captain with the Saluda Fire Department. Edwards also works part-time with Tryon and Columbus, and volunteers with Green Creek. “She’s held this county back from a lot and now that we are getting her out the door I feel like we can excel so much more.”

Commissioners voted 4-1 on Jan. 7 to “go in a different direction” in regards to the oversight of the county’s emergency medical system (EMS). Commissioner chair Michael Gage said the working relationship between volunteers and Dr. Owens has soured over the years, making the department less effective than it could be overall.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

In a previous interview with the Bulletin, Gage said the primary issues exist with a lack of training opportunities and the fact that individuals cannot volunteer as first responders in Polk County unless they have EMT certification.

Several volunteers said these two issues put a strain on the system.

“Under Dr. Owens the volunteer first responder program is dying,” said Marty McGuinn in a letter to the Bulletin.

Jeremy Gregg, a medical officer with the Green Creek Fire Department, said his department has had two volunteers that have not re-certified because of these issues. He said other EMTs are burned out as well and he’s concerned more will quit.

“If something doesn’t change, I’m afraid we’ll be in worse shape than what we are,” Gregg said.