Beaufort News

Yemassee residents, Hampton County officials spar over ambulance

A decision by Hampton County officials to stop staffing an ambulance in Yemassee has angered the town's mayor and residents who say the cost-cutting move puts them at risk.

Late last month, Hampton County Council approved removing an ambulance from a bay at Yemassee Town Hall that responded to calls for help in the town, Early Branch and Cummings.

Instead, a "quick-response vehicle" -- a Ford F250 pickup truck manned by one paramedic and equipped with lifesaving equipment -- has been dispatched to calls in Yemassee. Once on the scene, the paramedic can radio for an ambulance if the patient needs to be transported to a hospital. The county still has one ambulance in Hampton and another in Estill.

A 90-day test of the plan started June 1, much to the chagrin of some Yemassee residents and Mayor J.L. Goodwin.

"I was totally against it when they told me they were going to do this, and I'm still totally against it," Goodwin said. "We're at least 20 miles from a hospital in any direction, and that ambulance is the only lifeline we have to medical service. It's all we have. They were just looking at the numbers when they decided to do this."

Chris Altman, Hampton County's EMS director, said the cost of staffing, fueling and maintaining the ambulance played a role in the decision, but that was not the only factor.

"The Yemassee truck was only responding to 13 percent of all of our calls ... and 9 percent of those calls were near Hampton and Estill," Altman said. "We wanted to have a test period to see what would happen without that ambulance in Yemassee. If we find that it's not working ... we'll go back to the way it was before and try to find another way to cut costs."

Altman said the county will save at least $160,000 by removing the ambulance.

The county's assurances have not soothed some Yemassee residents, many of whom attended a Hampton County Council meeting this week to voice their displeasure.

Among them was Paul Holmes, a former firefighter and paramedic who presented council members with petitions containing the signatures of more than 1,000 residents who oppose the cut.

Holmes said county officials should have included Yemassee residents in early talks about the ambulance service, and he vowed to continue battling for the emergency vehicle's return.

"If you're talking about doing something this important, there should have been a public meeting," Holmes said. "We're going to continue fighting until we get our ambulance back."