By Jack Chavez, Staff Writer
(March 23, 2023) Worn down by what they describe as a series of one-sided relationships, the Worcester County Commissioners are sending letters to neighboring counties to let them know Worcester’s fire and EMS services cannot continue assisting them under the status quo.
In a unanimous vote on Tuesday, the commissioners elected to contact Sussex (Delaware), Accomack (Virginia) and Somerset counties to request meetings to discuss how the relationship can proceed.
Originally, the issue brought before the commissioners was to address Sussex County only, where the Bishopville Volunteer Fire Department has often sent its crews on emergency runs over the last three years.
According to data provided by the county Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young, Bishopville went into Sussex County 98 times over the last three years, versus just five times that Sussex responded to Bishopville’s area, In 2020, Sussex didn’t come into the area at all.
“This is an unsustainable trend that is pulling units out of Worcester County to basically clean up the lack of response in our neighboring counties,” Young said, roping in Accomack and Somerset counties as well.
Young added that when there isn’t an ambulance in Bishopville, it leaves the department exposed if a local emergency call comes in. This in turn affects the Showell Volunteer Fire Department, which would be the first station to pick up the slack.
Young said it’s a “bunch of downstream impacts, every one of these calls.”
On the southern end of the county, Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said emergency service trips into Accomack and Somerset counties are affecting the Pocomoke City Volunteer Fire Department, which has the longest distance to travel to make it to a hospital.
In at least one case last year, Showell actually made it to Snow Hill first — a 20-mile drive — because Pocomoke was indisposed on another run, Mitrecic said.
“We’re one call away from a complete, total meltdown,” Mitrecic said. “That’s been stressed to us. If we have somebody in Virginia or Sussex County and we get that call, it certainly won’t be good.”
Earlier, while updating the commissioners on the progress of a committee comprised of Worcester County Fire and EMS leadership, Young, Mitrecic and Commissioners Jim Bunting and Ted Elder, Mitrecic said that they’re making headway in determining what budget needs will look like in the future, a “funding mechanism” for those needs and where current deficiencies are.
But how spread-thin the county’s resources are with these extra runs into neighboring counties was the chief concern discussed on Tuesday.
“I think basically we need to tell (these counties) the same thing Ocean City told us about West Ocean City — that either they come up with the money it costs to run those areas or we stop running it. We can no longer continue to allow the cost of running these other areas to affect the WC taxpayers,” Mitrecic said. “We keep giving more and more money to these emergency medical companies and we’re not getting anything out of Sussex (or Accomack, although) I think Somerset does pay us $25 a run, something ridiculous like that.”