The Rock Hill Rescue Squad is no longer answering calls, after York County officials removed the agency from the county’s dispatch list Monday.
The decision was made by several officials, including York County Emergency Management, the York County Sheriff’s Office and County Attorney Michael Kendree.
Director of Emergency Management Chuck Haynes said the decision was based on a culmination of factors, including the stability of the organization, financial concerns and service and delivery needs.
“Due to the factors of expanding population, increasing call volume, their funding streams not being as stable as some other avenues such as the fire service, the sheriff’s office, EMS and other organizations, we made the decision to ask the rescue squad to consider joining those organizations rather than continue to duplicate a lot of the services that were already being provided,” Haynes said.
The Rock Hill Rescue Squad was made aware of Monday’s meeting and its potential outcome, Haynes said.
“It’s not their fault,” he said. “It’s just a time where it’s a full-time job, practically, to keep up with all the demands of such an organization.”
Rock Hill Rescue Squad Chief Joe Shackelford said Tuesday he was still in shock from the decision.
“It really hurts that this is happening,” he said. “I was hoping this was a bad dream.”
The nonprofit volunteer rescue squad, chartered in 1952, was strictly rescue and funded entirely by public donations. It was the last true rescue squad in York County and had about 15 members when county officials made the decision to remove it from the dispatch list Monday.
“We didn’t do medical transports or anything like that,” Shackelford said. “We didn’t have that source of income.”
Shackelford said the rescue squad will begin selling its equipment, and any money left after closing the agency will go to charity, as dictated in its constitution.
Haynes said that while the decision came as a shock to some, it wasn’t completely unexpected.
“No one in the room wanted to make the decision, even though it was the glaring, right decision to be made,” he said. “From a national perspective, the niche of the rescue squad is slowly going away. Because of rules and regulations, training requirements, liability and all the things that are factors in modern-day emergency service and delivery, they’ve gotten to the point it’s difficult for an all-volunteer and non-taxing organization to be able to survive.”
Three rescue squads that once served York, Clover and Hickory Grove have closed in recent years, and rescue squads in Lancaster and Indian Land closed this year after the Lancaster County Council eliminated funding for those agencies.
“The economy is still not what they call stable,” Shackelford said. “It’s hard to raise money.”
In a move to save money, the Rock Hill Rescue Squad moved out of its station on Albright Road two weeks ago because the utilities were too expensive, Shackelford said. The squad was in the process of finding a new permanent location.
“We were still available to run calls,” he said. “Our trucks were still operational.”
Haynes said about 95 percent of the Rock Hill Rescue Squad’s calls were in support of or in conjunction with other agencies, including fire services, the sheriff’s office and EMS. This led to a “duplication of efforts.”
“It is our belief a better model to deliver the services would be, instead of having multiple agencies do the same thing, to start consolidating those organizations,” he said. “We have asked the rescue squad members to continue to serve the county through fire departments, EMS and avenues with law enforcement. We’ve asked the leaders of those groups to consider taking these members and let them continue to serve the county.”
Fire departments in the Rock Hill area will now handle vehicle extraction calls, the York County Sheriff’s Office will handle water rescues and Piedmont EMS will handle medical calls, Haynes said.
“It should be pointed out that, for years now, these organizations have been handling these calls and the Rock Hill Rescue Squad was there with them supporting,” Haynes said. “We don’t anticipate any loss or delay of services.”
Leo Yakutis of River Hills-Lake Wylie EMS said the situation is unfortunate but added that it won’t change operations for his agency.
“There are a number of talented people there,” Yakutis said. “Every time they handled the call, it kept one of these other agencies available for more severe emergencies. I will say they will be missed.”
Shackelford expressed thanks to past and current rescue squad members and the community. “Without them, we wouldn’t have made it as long as we have,” he said.
“Unfortunately, times change and different things come up.”
Teddy Kulmala • 803-329-4082