CHATHAM, Va. — During Tuesday’s meeting of the Pittsylvania County Fire and Rescue Commission, Ringgold Volunteer Fire and Rescue Chief Mike Neal asked Pittsylvania County for help covering EMS calls. Particularly, he asked Pittsylvania County to consider placing an ambulance with paid Public Safety staff in the Dan River District to assist with EMS calls.
"Going forward, we're struggling,” Neal said, “I want the County to look ahead. Let's look at putting a medic truck in the Dan River District."
After previously hiring contractors to provide backup EMS service, Pittsylvania County Public Safety brought on its own crew of paid EMS staff in the summer of 2020. Two EMTs are stationed 24/7 with an ambulance in Hurt, Chatham, and Mount Hermon. Additionally, a quick response vehicle with one driver/EMT is stationed at the former 640 Community Rescue Squad 13 hours a day. These EMS professionals work alongside of the volunteers and can run calls in their place when other agencies aren't available.
After maintaining a 91 percent response rate for EMS calls during FY 21, Ringgold has responded to 86 percent of calls so far in FY 22. That number has dropped to 77 percent over the past month.
Neal mentioned several factors that are contributing to the difficulty his department is having in responding to EMS calls, including members dealing with COVID-19, members working multiple jobs, and increased responsibility with the closure of other departments. Both Laurel Grove Volunteer Fire Department and Kentuck Volunteer Fire Department have ceased providing transport EMS service in recent years, which has increased the first-due service territory for Ringgold.
More recently, Neal said that area hospitals going on diversion – which has caused problems across the Pittsylvania County Public Safety system – has increased the amount of time needed to respond to a call, which has reduced the number of available volunteers.
"People are scared to get on the truck," Neal said, noting that responding to one call could take 2.5 hours due to the diversions. "I don't have time to get home to go to work or I don't have time to make this doctor's appointment."
The Pittsylvania County Fire and Rescue Commission was created in 2019 to work with the Public Safety Department to provide recommendations and oversee strategic planning for all fire and emergency medical services provided in Pittsylvania County. This commission consists of four citizens representatives, four fire and rescue representatives, and a representative from the board of supervisors.
"It's not like we're in dire straits," Neal told the Star-Tribune after the meeting. "The biggest thing is that we cover 11,000 people. I'm covering 16 percent of this county for rescue. There's not enough volunteers to cover everything – not just in our area, but in the whole county."
Neal said the department has been riddled with circumstantial obstacles, but that response to calls are already back on the rise.