‘8,000 people in danger:’ Advance FD bewildered by removal of EMS station

Published 10:00 am Thursday, February 17, 2022

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By Mike Barnhardt
Enterprise Record

ADVANCE – Members of the fire department here were left dumfounded after County Manager David Bone came to the department on Jan. 21 and abruptly removed EMS crews.
They were even more confused when the manager, along with county attorney, Ed Vogler, failed to provide any details of allegations against the department, said Dan Barrrett, a member of the AFD Board of Directors.
What upset members of the department even more was that it left thousand of residents in this part of the county in danger because EMS units would be 10 minutes or further away. Survival rates from cardiac events improve drastically if medical care is provided within 10 minutes, said Daniel Burke, chair of the fire department’s board.
“The hasty and unwarranted removal of the EMS unit from AFD unfairly smeared AFD’s reputation and left thousands of citizens without adequate EMS coverage,” a fire department statement read. “It is our understanding that the county commissioners were not aware in advance of the removal of EMS from Advance and do not agree with how this was handled. We are hopeful that the county will restore 24-hour EMS coverage for eastern Davie citizens and issue an apology to AFD after it completes its review of this situation.”
The fire department did quickly negotiate with the county to have EMS crews to be at the old fire station from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily, at least providing coverage for 12 hours per day.
“The citizens need to know that EMS is in no danger here,” Barrett said, adding that it took weeks for the department to get specifics as to allegations of wrongdoing at the department. In addition, the situation was handled wrong, he said, with the county making it look like the fire department was more of an “animal house” than a professional department, which is far from the truth.
Once the department received specifics about the allegations, they hired an independent agency to conduct an investigation. Burke said that all of the incidents happened more than a year ago, and had been handled by the department.
One of the most serious incidents reported by Bone was “unwanted physical touching” from fire department personnel to an EMS worker. That touching, according to Barrett, was by a special needs young man who volunteered for easy chores at the department. There was nothing sexual about the touching, more like a hug. It was how this young man greeted almost everyone, he said.
The fire department provided a timeline of events:
Jan. 20: Fire Chief Rodney Miller told board members he had requested a meeting with Bone and EMS Director Brian Byrd about a rumor of complaints against the fire department.
Jan. 21: The county manager and EMS director meet with Miller and board member, Chris Dennis. The manager handed Miller the letter saying they were terminating the agreement that housed EMS units there immediately. Miller asked for details about the allegations, and was told by the county attorney that no more information could be released. All EMS equipment and people were moved to the station on Farmington Road.
“Chief Miller immediately called the chairman of the county commissioners and other commissioners to try to get some answers. Commissioners said they had no idea what was going on but they would make some calls and try to find out.”
Jan. 22: No answers from the county, “and our citizens still would wait 10-plus minutes for an ALS EMS unit.”
Jan. 23: County commission chair, James Blakley, said commissioners would discuss the issue that evening.
Jan. 24: “Chief Miller received a call from several commissioners stating that the county’s handling of this incident was very unprofessional, and they were working on it.”
Jan. 25: County officials meet that evening with fire department officials, who again asked for more specifics about the allegations. Bone said he would have to contact the county attorney. They also told Bone about their concerns for EMS response times in the area. They offered the old fire station, which could only be used for half a day because it has no living quarters.
Jan. 26: Agreement reached to temporarily house EMS units at the old fire station.
Jan. 27: The county attorney provides a name of the person involved with the inappropriate touching, but few details. “Alleged physical touching was not sexual or intentional but was unwanted. No specifics or details were provided as to the other three allegations,” the fire department statement read. The county had also claimed that a fire department member was making wine, that another loudly worked on a gun in the wee hours of the morning, and that male and female visitors were allowed in staff bedrooms. Miller and another board member met with the person accused of unwanted physical touching that evening, placed him on a 30-day suspension pending review. That person resigned. Bone had written that Miller had been made aware of the unwanted touching but
Jan. 28: The fire department makes a written request for specifics of allegations.
Jan. 31: The county provides a written summary of the unwanted physical touching, but nothing on the other three allegations.
Feb. 1: The fire department hires an indepedent human resources firm to investigate the claims by the county.
Barrett said the incidents had been handled internally, and appeared to have been one-time occurrences.
The wine making, which wasn’t successful, happened “some years ago,” according to the department, and Miller put a stop to it immediately.
The accusation of opposite sex visitors was also years ago. Since, the fire department installed badge readers that only allow staff members to enter the living quarters. Visitors must be accompanied by a staff member. “No evidence was found of unacceptable conduct,” AFD said of the investigation. “Staff understands that having visitors is a privilege that can be withdrawn.”
The late night noise complaint was from more than two years ago, which was also handled by the chief. No such complaints had been received since, the statement read.
“It appears these three allegations were just window dressing to make the situation at AFD appear more serious than it was to try to justify the hasty removal of EMS and lease termination. The third party firm investigated and determined that when these type concerns were raised years ago, AFD investigated and took prompt corrective action. There has been no recurence of these issues since,” the statement read.
County commissioners were scheduled to meet on Wednesday. Among the items on the agenda were personnel issues, as well as giving someone the authority to negotiate a price for land to build a new EMS station.
Burke said that could take up to two years or longer, while in the meantime, Advance residents are left without coverage. All decisions by the department – including the one to allow EMS crews to be housed at the new station – are made with citizen safety in mind. He also said there is no animosity between firefighters and EMS crews.
“But now 8,000 people are in danger.”