Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Members of Berkeley County Council held a special meeting on Thursday with representatives from Hanahan and Goose Creek about the longstanding arrangements regarding the use of a pair of county ambulances for each municipality.
Officials from Moncks Corner also attended the meeting hoping to explore a similar agreement with Berkeley County.
The deal, brokered 25 years ago, has allowed Hanahan and Goose Creek to enjoy the use of a pair of Berkeley County EMS vans at an average of $420,000 annually. The county gives those municipalities an EMS van, and in addition pays each city a total of $210,000 annually, in quarterly installments.
Members of county council now want to review the specifics of this arrangement.
“We want to do what’s fair for everyone,” said county councilman and Justice and Public Safety Committee Chairman Ken Gunn, who convened the meeting.
“We want to enjoy the same working relationship with the county enjoyed by the municipalities of Hanahan and Goose Creek,” said Moncks Corner Town Administrator Marc Hehn, who led a contingency of town council members attending the meeting. “We have worked together with Berkeley County for many years and want to continue our mutually beneficial working arrangement.”
While Goose Creek and Hanahan receive $210,000 annually from Berkeley County, Moncks Corner receives nothing.
Gunn said when it comes to public safety there should be no boundaries in Berkeley County and hinted at a centralized county fire and EMS department at being a more efficient means of protecting the wellbeing of Berkeley County’s citizens.
“You look at the other counties around the country, the ones who are more successful at public safety, and what kind of fire and EMS system do they have in place?” he said.
Since taking office in January, Gunn has reviewed the current state of the county’s fire and EMS service and has formed a new countywide fire board to study the effectiveness of how Berkeley County fights fires and handles the emergency needs of its citizens. He praised the work of those who serve the county.
“When you talk about public safety and response time, I’m very grateful for the many volunteer fire departments in rural Berkeley County. I applaud our volunteer fire departments for without them we’d be up the creek with a toothpick.”
Out of the 3,194 counties in the U.S., Berkeley County is the 35th fastest growing county expanding at a 33-percent growth rate.
Gunn said the county must stay ahead of the curve.
“I am concerned we will fall out of compliance with DHEC if we don’t act today,” he said. “Council has had some discussion in regard to our ambulance fleet.”
According to Gunn there are 11 Berkeley County ambulances on the road running 24/7, with nine EMS vans operated by the county, and one each used in Goose Creek and Hanahan. These vans have high mileage and are in need of major repair or replacement, Gunn said. There are have been instances where county EMS vans have broken down while on an emergency call.
“Public service and safety are my concerns,” Gunn said. “Money should not be the issue. Public safety should be the issue.”
Goose Creek Mayor Mike Heitzler praised the county for looking for workable opportunities to improve public safety. According to the mayor, Goose Creek’s averages between four and five minutes on its EMS response time. Heitzler has asked county council on several occasions to increase the presence of the Goose Creek Fire Department in Berkeley County, but warned that any cutting of funding could adversely affect his department’s level of service.
“I have been before you before to discuss a working arrangement with the county and Goose Creek,” he said. “If you can improve cost effectiveness without adversely affecting our four-to-five minute response time I’ll be behind you 100 percent.
Hanahan’s position on the current arrangement with the county is if it’s not broke why try to fix it? Mayor Minnie Blackwell told member of county council that Hanahan’s number one goal is to put the safety of her town’s citizens first.
“I would hope we never put money ahead of the safety of our citizens,” she said.
Hanahan has three fire stations with an average response time of three-to-four minutes on EMS calls. “That includes a body of water and two railroad tracks cutting through town.”
Council member Caldwell Pinckney told the committee not to forget those who live in rural Berkeley County.