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PH firemen petition to stay on all calls

By Dawn Burleigh and Eric Williams 

Members of the Pinehurst Volunteer Fire Department started a petition after their voices were not being heard by the city administration on medical call limits.

In June, there were multiple meetings requiring the chief of the fire department to attend, but the fire department officers were not allowed to attend the meetings even when the fire chief requested their presence at the meetings.
“This came about when the city administrator deemed that all medical calls were unnecessary for us to respond to,” Fire Chief Shon Branham said. “In our view, as first responders, breathing problems, chest pains, childbirth, choking, falls, diabetics, seizures, strokes, unresponsive persons, and unconsciousness are calls we feel necessary that a first responder should go to.”

The reason these are deemed unnecessary calls is due to an increase in dispatch service contract fees.  The service went up $1,100 when Pinehurst had to change dispatchers from Orange County ESD1 to ESD 2 dispatch.

The price increase came from a three-year average which totaled $25 per call, which made the increase more than what the city had paid for the past 10 years of service.

“This is going to put the citizens of Pinehurst and surrounding areas at risk for people that shop, visit, work, or pass through our city,” Branham said. “We have brought this department to a higher standard in the last eight years from where it was.”
“All of us took oaths to protect lives and property and we take that oath seriously,” Branham said. “At Easter we did a city-wide parade due to the impact of COVID-19 to let the citizens know that we were here for them. Now this is heartbreaking that the city administrator is telling us we can’t be there for them, unless it’s a CPR in progress call.”

A CPR in progress call is the only medical call the department can go on according to the changes.
“This is not a paid fire department and none of us live in this city or district, but we take time out of our lives and away from our family and friends 365 days a year to protect a city we don’t even live in,” Assistant Fire Chief Jayson Wells said.

Pinehurst Fire Department is a volunteer fire department. None of the members are paid for their services according to Branham.
“We enjoy doing this duty and giving back to the community, and we consider ourselves a family,” Wells said. “When one goes through it, we all go through it. As a fire department we have a duty to respond to any emergency at any time, and we should not have restrictions put on our calls we are allowed to make. An emergency is an emergency and we are emergency first responders.”

According to the petition circulating, the fire department works with other departments in mutual aid and with Acadian Ambulances under a First Responders Ordinance (FRO). Calls to be made for First Responder Criteria are:

  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Chest pains or heart trouble
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Diabetic emergencies
  • Unconscious or unresponsive/cardiac arrest
  • Traumatic injuries
  • MVC with injuries, entrapment or unknown injuries
  • Unknown medical calls
  • Any other requests by responding EMS unit
    As with a police officer responding to a 9-1-1 call, the situation can change rapidly.

Firefighters are concerned a minor call could escalate into a major call quickly which would require them to be on the scene.

Changes made by the new policy would allow the fire department to only respond to the following calls:

  • Structure fire
  • Fire alarms
  • Gas leaks
  • Down powerlines
  • Known cardiac arrest (CPR in progress)
  • MVC with fluids on ground

“We may be first on scene, if we are not first it may turn into a life or death situation,” Wells said. “The ambulance may be coming from another district or county, therefore no call is deemed unnecessary for us to respond to.”
“We are reaching out to all the citizens to please show support for the Pinehurst Volunteer Fire Department and our endeavors to keep the city safe,” Branham said. “As the Pinehurst Volunteer Fire Department, we are family and we stand together. We are one made up of many.”

The proposed budget for 2019-2020 for the fire department is $48,890 according to the approved budget on the city’s website. Of that amount, $6,000 was budgeted for fees- fire runs and $13,000 for contract dispatch services. With the new dispatch service the cost of the services would now cost $14,100 per year.

Pinehurst City Administrator was not in the office when called for a comment. We were told he would contact us when he returned to the office, but a time frame was not available at print time.