Suffolk volunteers say response change already taking its toll

Posted at 6:04 PM, Sep 02, 2013

Suffolk, Va. - A few days ago, Suffolk Fire and Rescue officially changed the way they do business.

And just as volunteers with the Nansemond-Suffolk Rescue Squad said they feared their call volume has dropped and three members have already left.

If it continues, they say, it could compromise the quality of care for the citizens of Suffolk.

“If your grandma is having a heart attack and they need to get to the hospital quick you don't want to have a situation where the ambulance breaks down or you got a medic that's been running on 24 hours straight and they're completely exhausted,” says Barbara Smith, Vice President of the Nansemond-Suffolk Volunteer Rescue Squad.

City Fire Chief Cedric Scott, thinks differently.

NewsChannel 3 met with Chief Scott last week.

He says staffing Station One on Market Street with a paid medic around the clock will improve the safety of the community.

It's a decision, he says, that is based on issues and concerns that were brought up - although he wouldn't go into further detail.

Now with the rescue squad responding second to those at Station One, volunteers seem to believe it could put a strain on the city's resources.

"Most of the stations only have one ambulance, we have three. And we rotate them out every week. We rotate them out so they keep the maintenance up on them so they don't break down,” explains Smith.

Out of 14 calls that came in since the change became official, volunteers say they went out to three.

Now with a lighter work load, and considering that a lot of their members are students in-training, some volunteers are leaving for stations in surrounding areas.

And for some people the idea of one day, not having enough volunteers to keep the rescue squad going is concerning.

People like Dr. Joel Michael who lives and works in the city. Dr. Michael is an emergency physician and the medical director for the volunteer rescue squad. He says they’re a huge asset because they provide the city with a lot more coverage for free.  And, even though Chief Scott says the change won't cost taxpayers' money, Dr. Michael is skeptical.

"It does bring to mind the question that, if they are able to man those extra shifts, do those extra calls and provide those services, what are those individuals doing before the change?" says Michael.