(Delmarvanow.com) -- A volunteer fire and rescue company in the northern part of Accomack County for the third straight year is asking the county to raise taxes to pay for daytime emergency medical services staff.
Aubrey Justice, Saxis Volunteer Fire and Rescue president, spoke to the Accomack County Board of Supervisors about first responders' need for help in the area.
Local volunteer fire and rescue stations increasingly have found it difficult to staff ambulances with volunteers only during the daytime hours, when many of those volunteers are at work at their paid jobs.
Justice's comments came prior to the board's upcoming discussions about the fiscal year 2019 budget, which starts in February.
"First year, I missed the deadline. Second year, it didn't go too well. Third time, we're going to try it again," he said during a public comment period at the board's January meeting.
"The northern part of Accomack County is asking for help — Saxis fire company, and I'm assuming Greenbackville ... daytime help only," he said, adding, "We don't want to bust the taxpayers; we're not asking for 24 (hours). We're just asking to help out when there is nobody around."
Justice said there have been incidents, including one involving him, when "I know what would happen if nobody was there. I can promise you what would have happened," he said, without elaborating.
Justice said a man lost his life in another instance, but he said he would let the man's family speak in detail about that at a later time.
"There is nobody around during the daytime. It's the most populated area in the county — more schools, industries — and being served by fewer DPS personnel," he said.
"We don't run a lot of calls, but the calls we do run, the people in that area deserve the same timely manner of help to them as everybody else," Justice said.
Fire and rescue volunteers are asking the county to increase the EMS tax by one cent per hundred dollars of value next year, in order to pay for additional Department of Public Safety employees to be stationed in northern Accomack.
Justice said between 250 and 300 people previously signed a petition asking for paid medics in the area.
The Accomack County Fire Commission also approved asking for the measure, with no volunteer fire company voting against it, although Justice said two or three companies were not represented at the meeting because they were responding to a structure fire.
"They stood behind us; the town is standing behind us, the businesses in the area — and we just feel like one cent is not much to ask for," he said, adding, "Everybody knows we're asking for it."
Justice spoke about a similar request, which the board ultimately approved, made in the past for the southern part of the county.
"It's the same situation, I've explained in the past, that Mr. Hart's area went through — and they got help. They needed help, and we are in the same boat in the northern part," he said.
The Board of Supervisors approved a 3-cent increase in the EMS tax then to pay for nine additional medics, in order to have an ambulance staffed at the Painter Volunteer Fire Company in the southern area of Accomack County.
Still, Michael Mason, Accomack County administrator, said the county is struggling to staff the three shifts at the current level, and said a request will be in the upcoming budget for additional positions to do that.
Justice said more details about the situation in the northernmost part of Accomack County will be given soon.
"The help is still needed," he said.
At the same meeting, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to divide evenly, among the remaining volunteer fire companies, annual funding the county previously provided to the now-defunct Onley Volunteer Fire Company.
The fire commission had recommended the action, which amounts to $9,000 more in county funding annually for each remaining fire company.
In a report on response time for emergency medical services, Department of Public Safety Director Charles Ray Pruitt said in his opinion, the northern area does need help.
With the opening almost a year ago of the new hospital near Onancock, ambulances in the county "are able to get back in service quicker," he said.
Still, it takes around two hours for an Oak Hall ambulance to get to and return from Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital near Onancock, versus around three hours for a round trip to Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, Maryland, he said.
He recommended adding more ambulances in Oak Hall.
From February 2017, when Riverside Shore Memorial opened, through December, ambulances in the county transported 2,456 patients to the hospital, compared to 622 transported to Peninsula Regional Medical Center and 27 transported to another hospital.
Pruitt said more fire protection also is needed throughout the county.
"Right now, we're at five stations for fires," he said.
"We have an EMS problem and we also have a fire problem. The reason we don't recognize it as much is because we don't run as many fire calls," Pruitt said, adding that when there is a large fire, such as the recent fire at the Eastern Shore Yacht and Country Club, it affects EMS response.