By Wayne Gates –
The emergency first responder system in Brown County is in a state of emergency of its own.
Rising call volumes and a lower number of volunteers are combining to create longer and longer response times to emergencies.
“Somebody will eventually die because of this situation,” said Brown County Fire Chief’s Association President Rob Starrett.
“It could happen at any time. It has happened a time or two already where we’ve had someone’s condition worsen while they were waiting for a response. That is going to continue to get worse.”
Starrett the Chief of the Higginsport Fire Department, an all volunteer organization. But the problems he and his department are facing are not unique to Higginsport.
Starrett said that departments like Ripley, Georgetown and Mt. Orab are also being stressed to the limit.
According to data provided by Brown County Communications Center Director Barb Davis, the number of fire/EMS runs in the county in 2010 was 6,068. Five years later in 2015, that number rose to 8,506 runs. Last year, the number of runs shot up to 9,158. Given that trend, it is only a matter of time before the county sees over 10,000 fire and ems runs per year.
“It takes a special person to get up in the middle of the night and go do this stuff for a little bit of nothing,” Starrett said.
“A lot of them are burned out because of the mandatory training, the rules and regulations. the much longer runs and the time they spend away from their families.”
Starrett said that much of the current problem can be traced back to a single event.
“When we lost the hospital in Georgetown (in 2014), that was the fatal blow. That turned a 30 minute turnaround for a run into several hours,” he said.
The hospitals that the Higginsport squads bring patients to include Maysville, Anderson, Mt. Orab Mercy and Clermont Mercy.
“If we go from Higginsport to Anderson, we are looking at a three to three and a half hour turnaround from to tone to returning to base and restocking the unit,” he said.
Starrett said that people are having to wait longer for help to arrive during the day because many of the volunteers have jobs that they cannot get away from.
“People don’t have as much time to volunteer as they used to. A lot of volunteers in the past were self-employed or worked for people who understood the commitment. Now, a lot of people have to travel a longer distance to work and can’t leave during the day,” he said.
Starrett added that when new volunteers do become available at many departments, they don’t stay long.
“A lot of times, when we do get a volunteer and they get some training under their belt, they smell a little bit of money from larger departments to the west and then they are gone. It’s a bidding war and it’s getting worse.”
Starrett said that the problem is affecting every department in the county, regardless of whether they have paid staff or not, because of mutual aid agreements.
That means that other departments agree to help in other areas of the county if needed.
“There are times that the comm(unications) center may go two, three and sometimes four deep before they can get somebody to respond to a call,” Starrett said.
“We often have to bring in other departments to try and cover some of our runs. We have to depend on Ripley, Hamersville, Georgetown or Felicity for cover runs.”
That means that taxpayers in one location are supporting other locations, whether they realize it or not.
Starrett asked, “Is it fair to the taxpayers of the unit that’s being called to continue to pay for somebody else’s runs?”
Starrett and others in the county are working on possible solutions to the problem. That story will appear in the Feb. 15 edition of The News Democrat.