I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the first responders in our community - firefighters, law enforcement and emergency medical workers. I called 911 for myself recently, and an ambulance arrived quickly. The emergency medical workers were very professional, courteous and got me quickly to the hospital, where I received prompt, compassionate care.
My concern is with a policy.
As a chaplain with the Columbia Fire Department, I have seen the toll on families and first responders of an outdated, inexplicable policy at Richland County Emergency Medical Services. This policy prohibits firefighters from driving an ambulance. Someone's life is in the balance. The Columbia Fire Department arrives first and begins patient care. A Richland County Emergency Medical Service ambulance arrives. If both medics on that ambulance are needed to render care to the patient, it's possible that the ambulance may not move until another ambulance or supervisor arrives on scene. Why?
Columbia Fire personnel are allowed to drive ambulances for both Kershaw and Lexington counties but not in Richland County. Think about that. Neighboring counties not only allow their own firefighters to drive their ambulances; they allow firefighters from another county to drive their ambulances.
The qualifications for operating a fire truck are actually higher than those required to drive an ambulance. I cannot understand the reasoning behind this policy. If that were my loved one, I want that ambulance moving toward the emergency room. Now.
Perhaps there is not a written policy that says "firefighters shall not drive ambulances." However, Richland County Emergency Medical Services personnel have been disciplined - in at least one instance by a three-day suspension - for allowing them to.
Richland County spokeswoman Stephanie Snowden told The State, "We will not compromise patient care waiting on a second ambulance." It's true that the two EMS personnel will work to save the patient. But unnecessarily waiting for the ambulance to move toward the emergency room is a compromise in care.
Does our society live by principle or by the rules of the bureaucracy we have created?
Our society values life to an extraordinary degree; we risk much and spend much in order to save and protect lives. This is not about dictating how EMS personnel should do their jobs. The policy is wrong. Change it.
REV. MICHAEL S. BINGHAM
Pastor, Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church