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Chester County Press

Editorial: One together, and no one apart

02/17/2021 11:09AM ● By Richard Gaw

The 216-page Kennett Area Conceptual EMS/Fire Delivery Model, issued in November of 2016, is perhaps the deepest dive into what the future of ambulance and fire services should look like in the six municipalities of Kennett Square Borough and East Marlborough, Kennett, Newlin, Pennsbury and Pocopson townships.

While it may not offer the glittering prose of a great novel or the fanciful rhythms of a book of poetry, the report is a must-read primer for those who are charged with the responsibility of delivering a broad and connective method of ambulance and EMS services to the region.

Of its many suggestions, the report issued a challenge: “to provide an integrated, seamless delivery of fire, rescue and emergency medical services to multiple municipalities.”

Had it been read, followed and implemented in the nearly five years since it was written, southern Chester County could be implementing a regional EMS and ambulance service by now. Instead, in two neighboring townships, two local fire companies have been granted exclusive contracts, while two other fire companies have been left out in the cold, scrambling to make up what will be huge deficits.

On Feb. 3, after several months of back-and-forth discussion and disagreement between the three Kennett Township supervisors – one could easily refer to it as a squabble – the board reaffirmed their 2-1 vote of the month before that will grant exclusive EMS and ambulance service to the Longwood Fire Company beginning on March 1.

A similar scenario played itself out in nearby London Grove Township, when at their November meeting, the township’s Board of Supervisors, in an effort to consolidate the township’s key services, voted to establish a single-service contract with the West Grove Fire Company for 2021, and not to renew its contract with the Avondale Fire Department. As a result of the board’s decision, the township is projected to save about $75,000 this year.

With these two votes, a sizable portion of EMS and ambulance services for the residents of southern Chester County has been gutted significantly, in an effort to increase efficiencies and save some money.

These decisions – these policies -- have turned our local fire and EMS service providers into carnival barkers – pitchmen -- engaged in a bidding war against each other. What these two decisions have further driven home is that the level of health and safety for our citizens is not determined by those who know best how to administer the best protocols to ensure that safety, but by elected officials, many of whom have no idea what is like to be in an ambulance or EMS vehicle attempting to render aid to a resident while seconds preciously tick away.

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The current way of doing things is broken and needs a complete overhaul, the report said.

During consultant interviews with the local government officials, the authors of the report wrote that it became clearly apparent that communication between they and the fire companies who serve their constituents has been problematic. Further, the report stated that while the leadership of the units does meet with local officials, there continues to be concern about the accuracy of financial and operational data. Most telling, it also stated that in order to secure adequate funding, the leadership of these companies is forced to meet with local governments.

“We are recommending an administrative organization be established by the local governments and used to address current and future emergency services issues,” the report said. “The local governments would delegate their current fire and emergency medical services responsibility to the administrative organization. The organization would work to ensure a sustainable equable system.

“We are not recommending a merger, consolidation, or elimination of the current fire company structure,” the report continued. “However, we do feel that one emergency medical services organization can adequately service the area. The administrative structure can take the form of a commission or authority.”

Currently, there are 13 Regional EMS Councils in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that administer the statewide EMS Program for the Department of Health. One nearby unit, the Montgomery County Regional EMS Council, works closely with many planning and coordinating agencies in the county to ensure that EMS personnel, agencies and ambulances are adequately equipped and prepared to provide the best out-of-hospital emergency care possible.

The council is responsible for inspecting ambulances, providing education and technical assistance, administering certification exams, conducting investigations, providing clinical expertise and coordinating with area hospitals to ensure quality service.

In our message to local officials and to every member of the Regional Fire and EMS Commission and every fire company from Kennett Square to Oxford, now is not the time for exclusion. Now is not the time for bitterness and egos and penny pinching that lead to year-by-year contracts and self-congratulatory praise that applauds two-steps-up, one-step back progress.

Now is the time for the municipalities of southern Chester County to become the 14th member of the Regional EMS Councils in Pennsylvania, in order to form a regional ambulance and EMS service.

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At least one local elected official is, shall we say, “woke” to the idea.

During her comments at the Feb. 3 meeting, Kennett Township Supervisor Whitney Hoffman strongly urged both Longwood and Kennett – in partnership with the Regional Fire and EMS Commission – to consider forming a joint regional EMS company for ambulance services. It would consolidate both application, administration and equipment, provide a cost savings through efficient management, eliminate the duplication of emergency response vehicles that would subsequently save taxpayers money.

“It may be in the best interest for all of Southern Chester County to one day develop an independent EMS Corps rather than having small operations from town to town,” Hoffman said. “This is why I originally suggested that we find a way to amicably create a joint EMS service between the two providers.

“I have been hoping that by working together, we could come up with a solution that serves both the emergency services needs of residents while maximizing their return for every tax dollar,” Hoffman added. “The core concept behind the idea of creating a regional service provider is consolidation of services, and gaining efficiencies and consistencies of service delivery across the region. This is what every resident expects, and it’s what we should be striving to deliver.”

We can only hope that local fire and EMS agencies, elected officials, commission members and everyone who is in charge of keeping the residents of southern Chester County safe, to kindly read that which is contained within a 216-page document that sees the future of EMS and ambulance services in this region as being one together, and no one apart.