Volunteer EMS coverage about to end

October 14, 2009 8:34:13 AM PDT
There is controversy over the decision to get rid of a volunteer 911 service in west Harris County. Almost 100 people who work there say they should keep their jobs because they know the area best. Neighbors have seen them on the streets for nearly 30 years, but now the non-profit West Harris County EMS is saying their community coverage is about to end. They are in a contract dispute with the Harris County Emergency Service District, who says it's a matter of accountability.

They've been serving citizens in west Harris County for nearly three decades and consider themselves more than an ambulance service, they consider themselves neighbors.

"I'm not saying the fully paid staff wouldn't care just as much about the people in this area, however I care even a little bit more than they do, due to the fact that I live here," said Chuck Bremholm, a WHCEMS volunteer.

Bremholm is one of the nearly 100 members of West Harris County EMS. They are a private emergency service provider under contract with the Harris County Emergency Services District. The district was initially created to provide emergency services to areas not covered by municipalities. WHCEMS provides service to over 75 neighborhoods and stretches as far west as Cinco Ranch.

"They told us back in August that they were not going to renew our contract. We've done everything we can do, but they have not been open to negotiations," said Marc Albea, Director of WHCEMS.

Right now they share space with the West I-10 Fire Department, another service provider under contract with the district. There is discussion to consolidate the services, both fire and EMS, within the West I-10 Department. It's a move that worries Albea.

"Because they don't know EMS. We know EMS. We don't want to be controlled by the fire department. We prefer to rule our own destiny," said Albea.

However, the Harris Co. Emergency Services District says it's a matter of transparency. They complain that WHCEMS hasn't provided a requested audit of their expenses. The district says they are funded by taxpayer money and they can't approve any expenditure without a thorough audit.

"I can understand why they would want to maintain that independence and that would have been possible had we been able to see the audits and had we been assured of and received the service that we requested," said Darrell Glueck of the Harris Co. Emergency Services District 48.

West Harris County EMS says they provide an accounting of their finances every month to the district. The EMS contract is scheduled to expire at the end of the year. No matter what happens, the district says county residents will not be without emergency services.

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