City votes to add six fire personnel

Published 9:37 am Friday, July 5, 2019

A motion to add six jobs at Winchester Fire-EMS cleared the city commission on a 3-2 vote, setting up discussions with county officials about funding.

City Commissioner JoEllen Reed, who has been pushing for the additions since May, made the motion to create the jobs with hopes of adding a fourth front-line ambulance to the service. Part of the goal, she said, would be for the department to take more transfers from Clark Regional Medical Center and generate additional revenue, rather than it going to services from other counties.

“This is putting us back to where we already ought to be,” Reed said. “Hopefully in the next budget cycle we can add three more to fully staff the fourth ambulance.”

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Reed’s motion did not mention financial impact. During the city’s budget meetings, Winchester Fire-EMS requested funding for 10 new positions to add that fourth ambulance at a cost of $760,000 for salary and benefits. It was cut for financial reasons and was not included in the city’s budget for fiscal year 2020.

“Our emergency services are our priority to the community,” said city commissioner and retired city firefighter Ramsey Flynn.

Reed made a similar motion during the commission’s June 18 meeting, but Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner said it was out of order as the commission was approving the budget and the motion would have a major impact.

Burtner, though, voted against the measure.

“To me, this motion … is still a bit premature because we don’t know what our friends across the street are going to do,” he said, referring to the Clark County Fiscal Court. The county pays 45 percent of the EMS services according to an agreement.

“It’s a troubling situation where we are continually stressed and strained on the financial side,” Burtner said, adding he has discussed the situation with Clark County Judge-Executive Chris Pace.

“The only conversation I’ve had … is about merging the city and county fire departments,” Burtner said. “I don’t know how you’re going to engage in that discussion without addressing this.”

Commissioner Shannon Cox also voted no, citing the departments struggle to find enough employees to be fully staffed. Earlier in the meeting, four new firefighter recruits were presented to the commission.

“We tried to hire six,” Cox said. “I don’t think (additional) employees are out there.”

Winchester Fire-EMS has struggled to attract employees in recent years, as paramedics are in high demand from hospitals.

Commissioner Kitty Strode voted for the measure, but said she was concerned about the county’s reaction.

“This will enable us to talk to the county,” Strode said.

“No, what we’ve done is order them to amend their ordinance,” Cox said.

“We have to start somewhere,” Reed said. “It is our hope the positions will be able to be filled.”

Tuesday, Winchester Fire-EMS Chief Cathy Rigney said she was ready to present six new recruits to the commission, but only four decided to stay with the department. With the new hires, the department is still two employees short of being fully staffed. Often, crews assigned to fire trucks have to be broken down to staff ambulances.

Clark Regional Medical Center board member DeEtta Blackwell said the hospital’s concern in patients waiting for hours to be transferred to the next higher level of care.

“We need to solve the problem,” she said. “We have patients lying on stretchers for hours with no way to get the care they need.”

“It’s about doing the right thing,” CRMC CEO Aphreikah DuHaney-West said. “There needs to be a way a group of people can get together and put labels aside. There are questions to be answered. If you can’t do it, we need to figure something else out.”

In other action Tuesday, the commissioners:

— renewed its general liability, public official, law enforcement, automobile, property and worker’s compensation insurance.

— accepted the resignation of patient transfer specialists Maurice Ferguson and Sean McCarthy.

— approved the second reading of a budget amendment for fiscal year 2019.

— approved the second reading of an ordinance to create the Winchester-Clark County Active Transportation Committee.