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A Forgotten EMS Hero?

LANCASTER, Pa. -- David Sauder died as he had lived: rushing to rescue someone.

The emergency medical technician with the Leola Ambulance Association was responding to a 911 call from a pregnant woman early on the morning of Feb. 16, 2007.

The driver of the response vehicle skidded on ice, lost control and struck a tree.

Sauder, a 36-year-old Leola machinist who logged more than 80 hours a week on call as a volunteer EMT, died in the crash.

On the anniversary of his death, an indignant ambulance association wonders why the federal government has not paid Sauder's wife, four daughters and baby son the death benefits they deserve.

"The government says we're heroes and everything,'' says Steve Davey, a paid EMT with Leola Ambulance, "but when it comes to recognizing one of us who died, they don't respond.''

The anticipated response would be a payment of $300,000 under the federal Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program administered by the U.S. Department of Justice.

According to Davey, the ambulance company filled out and mailed in the required paperwork within 30 days of Sauder's death, as required.

Six months later, the government asked for more information. Davey says that information had been provided previously, but the company submitted it again.

More recently, the government has questioned the official status of the ambulance company.

When Upper Leacock Township replied that the company is "allowed'' to respond to emergency calls, the government required that the word be changed to "authorized.''

Davey believes the Justice Department is dragging its heels.

The state provided a $100,000 death benefit under a similar program within three days of receiving paperwork last March. So what's the problem with the feds?

The Leola Ambulance claim remains under review, Justice Department spokeswoman Sheila Jerusalem reports.

She says Leola Ambulance has not responded to a Jan. 31 request for more information.

"We need a response and then we can move forward with the claim,'' she explains.

Davey says lawyers for the ambulance company are "going over every single word'' of the response in hopes that it will meet Department of Justice requirements.

At the prompting of Leola Ambulance, U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts' office got involved months ago.

Pitts' press secretary, Andrew Cole, is reserved in his comments about the case. The matter is "complicated,'' he says, although he believes it can be resolved.

"The congressman is very concerned about the length of time it is taking," Cole adds.

Davey believes the matter should have been resolved long ago.

Sauder volunteered for the company for 16 years. He logged 86 hours a week on call, responding to emergencies days, nights and weekends. He also served for 13 years with the Bareville Fire Company.

Sauder's family, Davey says, deserves the benefits that his selfless service earned.

"The family's doing well. It's not like they're starving or anything,'' he reports. In addition to the state benefit, the family receives survivor benefits under Social Security. Bareville Fire Company held a benefit fund-raiser.

But the federal money eventually will be needed, Davey says. Besides, it's the principal of the matter.

"The state of Pennsylvania did the honorable thing, coming to the family's aid expeditiously,'' he says. "I find it shameful that those in our federal government have proved less honorable.''

CONTACT US: jbrubaker@LNPnews.com

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