FLOYD COUNTY — By a 4-3 margin, the Floyd County Council voted down a request Tuesday to spend $450,000 to refurbish two ambulances that service the Greenville and Lafayette fire districts.
The money would have been allocated out of Floyd County’s share of federal CARES Act funding that was approved in 2020 in part to aid local governments in addressing the pandemic.
New Chapel EMS has a contract to cover the county, but the Lafayette Township Fire Department has operated two ambulances since 2003 as a backup to the primary provider. Greenville Township contracts with Lafayette for additional ambulance and fire services as part of a merger.
Lafayette Fire Chief Jeremy Klein told the council the ambulances have been instrumental in service to the township and Greenville while also being used as backup in other portions of the county. But he emphasized the vehicles have aged and are in need of overhauls.
He said the ambulances were initially purchased due to issues with a different private provider who was under contract for county service.
“People were suffering because the response times were lengthy,” Klein said.
About 70% of the department’s service calls involve EMS, and having the ambulances keeps the township from having to send out large fire engines for those responses, Klein said.
EMS service has been a point of debate in the county for several years. A 2020 study cited issues with New Chapel response times, though the company and some county officials have contested those findings.
There was a renewed push in 2021 for a consolidated fire and EMS district to service the entire county, but that process has stalled.
Council members Adam Roberts, Danny Short, Connie Moon and Dale Bagshaw voted against the request. Some questioned why the township was asking for funds to refurbish the ambulances instead of buying new ones.
Klein said the expense would be much more to buy new ambulances, and that the township fire board has to consider other future needs including purchasing another engine.
Moon said there are too many “unanswered questions” and that the funds would only aid two township districts.
“There are other conversations out there that could benefit the entire county instead of just the two districts,” she said.
Georgetown’s fire district has declined to join with Lafayette for ambulance service. Still, Klein said Lafayette regularly responds to calls in other districts if New Chapel is backed up.
Councilman Brad Striegel, who sponsored the appropriation request, agreed with Klein.
“The other districts didn’t want to be in the business of EMS,” said Striegel, who has been a proponent of a countywide EMS service that would see ambulances stationed in township firehouses.
“I think this is a very appropriate way to spend CARES money,” he said. “It’s what it’s intended to do.”
In explaining his vote Wednesday, Short said he doesn’t believe the county can provide funds to another taxing entity without an interlocal agreement. He also said Lafayette has cash available after Greenville combined its funds with the district for service last year.
Short added that Baptist Health Floyd has purchased two ambulances and there are preliminary discussions about whether the hospital will also be providing EMS service in the county.
Only a few of the EMS runs Lafayette has made over the past year involved transports to hospitals, Short continued.
Klein acknowledged Wednesday that most of the department’s EMS runs aren’t transports, as he added ambulance service isn’t Lafayette’s primary responsibility.
But the ambulances allow Lafayette to have a stand-by when making fire runs and they provide the option of transporting patients if an emergency arises, Klein added.
The ambulances also assist the department during fire runs.
“It’s about the people, and there’s been times, as you heard in the meeting, that we’ve covered for the primary provider,” he said.
“It’s about the life and the care of the patient and the quality of care. Some instances require for a patient to get to the hospital quicker and we have that ability.”
The pandemic has strained EMS services nationwide, which has resulted in longer wait times for patient transport, he continued.
Klein said Greenville had about $500,000 in cumulative capital funds available after its merger with Lafayette, which is about the cost of one new fire engine. Some of those funds are being reserved for the purchase of a new engine that’s already been ordered and the remaining money is being saved for other equipment needs, he continued.
County Commissioner John Schellenberger supported using CARES to refurbish the two ambulances. He said Wednesday Lafayette assists other districts and has served as a reliable backup for EMS.
“Lafayette is in close proximity to Floyds Knobs Elementary and Greenville is in close proximity to Greenville school,” said Schellenberger, who has also been a supporter of a countywide EMS system. “In the event of a medical emergency, these ambulances need to be upgraded and dependable to respond to any medical emergency including schools until New Chapel arrives.”