Residents in Penhook are asking Franklin and Pittsylvania counties for help paying EMT staff at Cool Branch Rescue Department following the death of a community member earlier this year.
The citizen group has raised $120,000 since the effort first began earlier this year. Pittsylvania County has promised to match up to $230,000 of what the group raises.
Kim Cassada, a Penhook resident and vice president of the Cool Branch Rescue Department’s board of directors, spoke to the Franklin County Board of Supervisors last month to request an additional $100,000 in funding. So far, the county has not responded.
Residents want to hire six paid EMT staff that would be stationed at various times at Cool Branch Rescue Department during the week. The paid staff would fill any gaps in coverage left by volunteers, a growing concern since May 19 when a Penhook resident died of a heart attack.
Cassada said the community came together to find a way to fund paid EMT staff after a resident had to wait more than 40 minutes for help after calling 911 due to a heart attack. The man later died.
Cassada called it a”perfect storm” that caused the delay on May 19. Volunteers at Cool Branch Rescue Department were out that day due to a scheduled doctor’s appointment.
Because of that, the call for service moved to the Glade Hill Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department which was already out on another call. The call for service then moved to the Westlake Public Safety Station which responded from nearly 30 minutes away.
“We are trying to prevent this from ever happening again,” Cassada said of the effort now to hire paid EMT staff.
Cassada doesn’t fault the volunteers at Cool Branch Rescue Department for not being available. She said the number of volunteers at not only Cool Branch, but other departments across the county has seen sharp declines in recent years.
So far, four EMT have been hired as paid staff that are now working out of the Cool Branch Rescue Department. Cassada said more funding is needed to hire two more EMT and to assure that they can be staffed permanently. Right now, funding will only last long enough to keep the four EMT staff for two years, she said.
“We have done our due diligence,” Cassada said. “We are just asking for funding to make this sustainable.”
Fundraisers are still ongoing in the Penhook community to fund the paid EMT staff. The Water’s Edge Country Club is hosting a charity golf tournament and live auction Oct. 7 and 8. Club owner John McConnell has also donated $30,000.
There have been ongoing negotiations for the past two years between Pittsylvania and Franklin counties over the funding of Cool Branch Fire and Rescue Departments. Cassada said those negotiations will have no impact on the paid EMT staff hired by the citizen group.
While there have been discussions in Pittsylvania County concerning limiting or eliminating emergency services to Franklin County in the past because of funding issues, a letter sent to the citizen group last month stated the county would not stop emergency services in Franklin County.
The letter, sent by Pittsylvania County Administrator David Smitherman, stated the county had no intention of forgoing emergency services to citizens of Franklin County and the Penhook community.