ROGERSVILLE — Eleven experts will examine Hawkins County’s ambulance service problems and come back to the County Commission with a recommendation before another EMS franchise is issued.
On Monday, the commission voted 20-1 to appoint an exploratory committee to investigate the feasibility of creating a county-owned ambulance service.
In related action, the commission also voted 15-6 to table a resolution issuing an ambulance franchise to Lifeguard EMS.
Under that resolution, Lifeguard would have presumably taken over coverage of the territory in east Hawkins County that was previously covered by Church Hill EMS, which folded last month.
That was the second time in two years the Hawkins County Commission has denied Lifeguard EMS a franchise.
As a result of Monday’s votes, Hawkins County EMS will continue covering the entire county while the study on a county-operated EMS service is conducted.
The exploratory committee will begin meeting within 30 days and was asked to formulate a preliminary plan or strategy within 180 days.
The exploratory committee resolution was introduced by Commissioner John Metz, who had suggested last month that a county-operated EMS service could be funded, along with other public safety programs, with a $20 wheel tax increase.
No one vocally objected to Metz’s resolution, nor was there an objection to the 10 committee members he nominated.
The only debate occurred when commissioner Jeff Barrett made a motion to add former Navy and NASA firefighter Bill Killen to the committee.
Killen has a long list of credentials related to his career as a firefighter.
Barrett said the commission would be doing a disservice to county residents by not adding Killen to the committee.
Several commissioners, including Metz, were opposed to the addition of Killen to the committee, however, due to Killen’s current candidacy for Church Hill mayor.
The purpose of the committee, Metz said, is to provide the commission with a non-biased, non-political recommendation.
One of Killen’s opponents for mayor is Commissioner B.D. Cradic, who is also a Church Hill alderman.
Killen was asked to address the commission on his ability to remain non-political during the committee discussions.
Killen said he held EMS certification in three states for more than 30 years.
He also managed the transition of ambulance services from the Bureau of Medicine under the Department of the Navy to the Navy Fire and Emergency Services program where all ambulance service in naval installations worldwide were handled by the base fire department.
“I’m interested in serving the people of Hawkins County,” Killen told the commission. “I’m not interested in bringing politics into it. This is not a political matter. This is a life safety issue.”
But it did get a little bit political during Monday’s meeting.
Cradic asked Killen if he has every “fought in a structure fire” — to which Killen answered yes.
“Well, you lied to me about four years ago,” Cradic blurted out before being cut off by Mayor Melville Bailey.
Killen was added to the committee membership by a vote of 14-7 with Cradic, Fred Castle, Danny Alvis, Greg Fletcher, Linda Kimbro, Mark Linkous and Metz opposed.
The resolution was then approved as amended by a vote of 20-1 with Syble Vaughan-Trent voting no.
The commission also formally voted to revoke Church Hill EMS’s franchise, but a resolution offering that franchise to Lifeguard EMS was defeated.
Commissioner Stacy Vaughan, who chairs the commission’s Public Safety Committee, introduced a separate resolution offering Lifeguard that franchise.
Vaughan noted that Hawkins EMS appears to be financially unstable, having reduced the number of ambulances working 24/7 in the county from seven to six in just the past few days.
HCEMS Director Wayne Elam told the commission one ambulance in Rogersville has been shut down temporarily.
Vaughan noted that in early 2015 there were nine full-time ambulances serving Hawkins County between HCEMS, CHEMS and Lifeguard.
“I think the more ambulances you have ... the safer you’re going to be and the safer the citizens are going to be,” Vaughan said. “We’ve got to look at what’s best for the citizens. I’m not here to make Hawkins EMS grow, and I’m not here to make Lifeguard EMS grow. I’m here to make sure the citizens are covered.”
Metz spoke against awarding the second franchise, at least until the exploratory committee has completed its work.
Metz also expressed concern that there is no county fee structure in place that would place limits on how much the for-profit Lifeguard can charge.
Metz and several other commissioners also wanted to require Lifeguard to post a $500,000 surety bond, although that was not listed as a requirement in the resolution.
Commissioners who voted against tabling the resolution included Dwight Carter, Jeff Barrett, Eugene Christian, Stacy Vaughan, Bob Palmer and Darrell Gilliam.
The other 10 members of the commission’s exploratory committee include:
• Retired physician and community activist Dr. Blaine Jones.
• Retired surgeon Dr. Richard Mahalik, who helped set up Davidson County’s EMS service.
• Tim Strange, who is dean of public safety at Walters State Community College.
• Stacy Mahan, who is a critical care paramedic/flight medic for Wings air Rescue.
• Jackie Charles, who is a county school board member and a member of the Rural Health Consortium board of directors.
• Edward Alvis, who is a registered nurse and longtime EMT instructor.
• Ralph Darnell, who is a retired NASA engineer from Mooresburg.
• Registered nurse Michelle Maddox.
• Rebecca Beck, who is the president of Hawkins County Memorial Hospital.
• County Finance Director Nicole Buchanan.