After 43 years in existence, the Williamsburg-Whitley County Rescue Squad is out of business.
Jerry Rains, Kentucky Division of Emergency Management Area 11 Manager, said that he met with Rescue Squad Chief James Moses last week to get and review a routine inventory list of equipment that the agency maintains.
After reviewing the list, Rains discovered that the rescue squad didn’t have some of the minimum equipment that rescue squads are required by law to keep.
"There is a required list of minimum equipment by law," Rains said. "They supplied me with an inventory and some of that equipment wasn’t listed.
"When I got inquiring about it, they didn’t have it and it was going to cost a considerable amount of money to get it. They just didn’t have the funds to do that right then so basically they decided to dissolve the rescue squad."
Rains said late Monday afternoon that he didn’t have a list of the needed equipment in front of him, but that it would have cost "several thousand dollars," to purchase the needed equipment.
Moses, who had only been chief for about one week when this happened, said that the decision boiled down to a lack of funds.
"The situation was not good due to lack of funds," Moses said. "Right now, we are so tight on funds and limited on resources that we just no longer felt like we could do it."
Rains said that the Williamsburg Fire Department has agreed to handle all ground searches and water rescues and recovery in the city limits.
Woodbine and Oak Grove Volunteer Fire Departments have agreed to take on the ground search responsibilities in the county.
"What we are going to do is a complete inventory of the equipment, and then upon consultation with the county judge, we will distribute that equipment to the personnel and agencies that are going to be assuming that responsibility," Rains said.
The inventory is planned for next week.
Rains said officials are planning to consult with Woodbine and Oak Grove volunteers and any other interested parties about possibly forming a new rescue squad.
"If anyone else wanted to join, we could get another rescue squad going. Until then, those two fire departments will be going at it jointly to cover the entire county with the exception of Williamsburg," Rains said.
Woodbine Volunteer Fire Chief Rick Fore said that things are still in the "planning mode" and that he and Oak Grove Volunteer Fire Department Chief Kevin Gibbs still have to work out the details.
Fore said that the two fire departments will probably try to handle the new responsibilities through the fire departments without forming a new rescue squad.
Fore said that the two departments will likely be doing both ground searches and water rescue and recovery.
While the two departments already have a lot of the needed equipment, Fore said that the biggest new expense will probably be boats and motors, but that they are hoping to get at least part of the boats and motors from the rescue squad’s inventory.
Fore said that he doesn’t know what the financial impact will be in terms of additional expenses on either of the departments.
Williamsburg Fire Chief James Privett said that the fire department has traditionally handled most of the ground searches inside the city limits and has been doing auto extrication for about three to four years.
"It’s not really going to add a lot to us just the river searches," Privett said.
The fire department scheduled a 20-hour state training class Monday for the city’s 23-man fire department, which includes five paid firefighters.
Privett said that the biggest expense will be getting boats for the water searches, but he is hoping to get one from the county when the rescue squad’s equipment is divided up.
Privett said he is hoping to secure grant money to purchase other related equipment.
Not the first to close
The Williamsburg-Whitley County Rescue Squad was formed and incorporated in March 1967.
"It was a long serving agency and it will be missed in the county," said Rains, who at one time was head of the Williamsburg-Whitley County Rescue Squad.
"My first love was rescue. It is a tough part of the job," Rains said. "We are going to every rescue squad in Kentucky and doing an inventory.
"This is just one of 11 counties that I have to deal with. We are going to be going to all of them, and looking at it. This isn’t the first that has closed its doors here in Kentucky."
He said that at least three other rescue squads in eastern Kentucky have closed their doors in recent months due to financial problems.
"It’s a sign of the times really. All emergency services have hit on financial troubles," Rains said.
The Williamsburg-Whitley County Rescue Squad was an all volunteer and donation driven group with the exception of occasional grant money to purchase equipment and $5,000 annual from the fiscal court.
"That does not go far for an emergency services agency that has to respond and buy fuel and buy oil and buy tires. The money just doesn’t go very far," Rains said.
Forming another squad?
Rains said that it isn’t impossible to form another rescue squad.
"You just need a group of dedicated people to see that it would go," he said. "The equipment is an expense. The insurance on the vehicles is an expense. Everything nowadays has an expense with it."
Moses said he hopes that another rescue squad will be formed some day, but given the current economy he just doesn’t know if it will.
"I hope someone else can come and start back up," he added.