The Wilkes County commissioners approved rescue services contracts with the Champion, Ronda and Wilkesboro fire departments Tuesday night.

The commissioners also heard an update on Wilkes Rescue Squad activities and appropriated $22,000 to the squad for thrombolytic drugs to help equip four squad ambulances for advanced life support (ALS) care. These “clot-busting” drugs have saved lives of people having heart attacks.

Squad Board President Bill Myers said the drugs cost about $5,000 per dosage, but are replaced at no charge if not used before an expiration date or if given to a patient.

The rescue services contracts with the Champion, Ronda and Wilkesboro fire departments, and those approved earlier with the Austin, Millers Creek, McGrady and Mulberry-Fairplains fire departments, designate these departments as “secondary providers” of rescue services.

These actually are addendums to contracts designating them as providers of fire protection services in their respective fire districts.

The contracts state that the Wilkes Rescue Squad is the primary provider of rescue services under a prior contract with the county.

The Wilkes Rescue Review Board, created under a revised contract between county government and the Wilkes Rescue Squad in 2011, already approved the rescue services contracts with these seven fire departments.

The Wilkesboro Town Council already approved the Wilkesboro Fire Department contract, which is for services outside the town limits.

Commissioner Greg Minton, who represents the commissioners on the Wilkes Rescue Review Board, said that board conditionally approved a rescue services contract with the Pleasant Hill Fire Department.

Minton explained that Pleasant Hill only lacks completion of an agricultural rescue class later this month and needs to buy some chains for rescue operations to meet all requirements for a rescue services contract.

He said other fire departments in Wilkes are taking the training and buying equipment needed to provide rescue services and will go before the review board and the commissioners.

Under the rescue services contracts, fire departments agree to provide and maintain certification for at least “light rescue” services. This refers to freeing people who are entrapped, most often in motor vehicle accidents.

The contracts give the option of providing light, medium, heavy or specialty rescue services but require maintaining accompanying certification, which means having certain equipment and number of certified or trained personnel. Services also must be provided at no charge to citizens.

Medium level allows use of hydraulic equipment in extricating people from wrecked vehicles, using ropes and related equipment and more. Heavy level involves even more technical rescue services.

Champion and Ronda are medium level providers. Wilkesboro is light, but Wilkesboro Chief Jason Smithey said it nearly meets requirements for medium. The squad is a heavy rescue provider.

County Attorney Tony Triplett said fire departments with an approved rescue services contract need review board but not commissioner approval to upgrade to a higher level.

The review board follows guidelines of the National Incident Management System and written protocol approved by the commissioners.

The review board annually reviews records, qualifications and operations of the squad and other entities providing rescue services to determine compliance with contract requirements.

Voting members of the review board are the county commissioner who serves as fire commissioner, county fire marshal, Wilkes Emergency Medical Services (EMS) director, Wilkes EMS system plan medical director or his designee, director of emergency services education and training (at Wilkes Community College), one appointee apiece of the Wilkes Rescue Squad Board of Directors and Wilkes Firemen’s Association.

Wilkes Rescue Squad update

Myers said the squad was established in 1955 and is a 501(c)(3) organization. He said squad day-to-day operations are controlled by an executive committee consisting of the squad chief and four other officers, while the board oversees finances.

The squad’s current $215,000 budget includes $150,000 from county government. The remainder comes from grants and fundraisers. Myers thanked the commissioners for their support.

He said the squad faces non-budgeted expenses totaling $100,000 in the next two years to make four squad ambulances compliant with ALS requirements and equivalent to Wilkes Emergency Medical Services ambulances. He said this includes $22,000 for thrombolytic drugs and the rest for two updated Lifepak monitors/defibrillators.

Minton made a motion to allocate the $22,000. The motion passed unanimously but some of the commissioners questioned proposing it unexpectedly then.

Squad member Chris Minton gave a report on the squad’s call volume this year, saying it responded to 102 back-up and stand-by calls for Wilkes EMS, 33 water rescue calls, four high angle rescue calls and numerous motor vehicle accidents with entrapments.

“We have updated our turnout gear to meet current requirements and purchased rescue tools capable of what is encountered with new vehicles.”

Chris Minton said the squad is focusing on specialty rescue skills, including water, high angle, agricultural, machinery and wilderness. “We expect our water calls volume to increase.”

He noted that the squad has several new members, mostly with paramedic or ALS training, for a total of 33.

It has 12 new member applications, mostly for an associate program focused on specialty rescue skills. The goal is to have associate members throughout the county who can be called on when special rescue skills are needed.

Squad member Pat Jackson talked about the squad’s increased number of calls or being on standby for Wilkes EMS when EMS ambulances are all tied up. This has occurred as Wilkes EMS calls have increased.

Commissioner Eddie Settle praised Squad Chief Cole Wyatt for quickly providing squad members and an ambulance for youth football games one recent Saturday, thus avoiding having to cancel the games when no ambulance showed up due to miscommunication.

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