The Lancaster County Council is moving to phase out the all-volunteer Indian Land and Lancaster rescue squads, officials said.
No date has been set when the squads will stop serving area residents, but the county council has eliminated their funding and the county administrator is encouraging the volunteers to join local fire departments or the Lancaster County EMS department.
“We do have several options they can pursue and we hope they will continue their service to the community in some fashion,” County Administrator Steve Willis said.
Indian Land’s rescue squad has approximately a dozen members.
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Council approved a budget at its June 23 meeting that reallocates funds previously used for local rescue squads, including $20,000 for Indian Land’s to paid rescue services throughout the county, including fire departments, Councilman Brian Carnes said.
Officials, including Indian Land Rescue Squad President Scott Craton, said it’s unclear when the squads will be phased out, but they likely will continue operating as an extension of the county for the rest of the year and possibly into 2015.
An email to Craton from county EMS Director Clay Catoe inform Craton that, “after a few months, neither squad will be authorized to respond to calls. I have no time line in that. Until then you guys still run as normal.”
Carnes, one of Indian Land’s two representatives on Council, said part of the money allocated to county services will be used to purchase rescue equipment for all fire departments for services such as extricating people trapped in vehicles after traffic accidents. The extra funding will allow fire departments and other services to reach the entire county, a need that was not being met through the two rescue squads, Carnes said.
“We want to provide the best quality service we can get consistently,” he said.
Lancaster County covers 555 square miles and has just over 79,000 residents, nearly 30 percent of whom reside in the Indian Land Panhandle.
Services the rescue squads provided, such as extricating accident victim, providing on-site emergency medical care, swift water search and rescue operations and more, will now be performed by the county, Carnes said. The county-owned ambulance currently stationed in Indian Land will remain operable, but by EMS.
Carnes said many Indian Land Rescue Squad members are Lancaster County EMS employees and had to be paid overtime to provide rescue services.
Moving away from rescue squads has been in the works for years in Lancaster, Carnes said. Members of the Lancaster Rescue Squad did not have the proper training to provide the needed services, he said. The county EMS and fire depertments are also on site during rescues.
The moves are a response to the rapid growth of the Panhandle, Willis said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we see 24-7 fire coverage in the Panhandle in the near future,” he said. “The availability of paid responders versus a volunteer organization is a key driver. As the Panhandle grows more urbanized, an urban level of response will be needed.”
Craton, a full-time paramedic with the Lancaster County EMS, said the county has cut the squad’s funding nearly in half over the past few years and that although the squad knew the county was considering removing its funding entirely, the volunteers did not know it was going to happen so soon.
“It was kind of shocking,” he said.
Without a dedicated budget – or an ambulance – Craton said he doesn’t see how the squad can continue to operate. However, he didn’t rule out launching a fundraising campaign and applying for grants to keep the squad going.
“We can do fundraising and still wait and see what happens to us,” Craton said.
“It’s a possibility, but since we’re technically under EMS, we have to go to county council to keep the truck and if they let us keep that stuff, we’ll be able to respond (to calls).”
“I know they are very passionate about what they do,” Carnes said. “I applaud them for offering their services to the community.”
Fort Mill Times Editor Michael Harrison contributed to this story.