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Gas Prices Affecting Emergency Services

PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. -- With fuel prices above $4 per gallon for gasoline and around $5 for a gallon of diesel, emergency service providers in Putnam County are feeling a budget pinch.

County commissioners last March approved a $16.1 million budget for the current fiscal year, which started in July and that budget includes money to offset higher fuel costs in various county departments.

The primary fuel users include the Sheriff's and EmergencyMedical Services, although other departments such as the Assessor also have some vehicles.

Last fiscal year the EMS budget contained $125,000 to cover fuel, oil and tires, according to EMS Director Cecil Kimble.

The allocation lasted through the year, just barely, he said.

This year the commissioners allotted $145,000 for the same line item.

With seven ambulances on the road most of the time, Putnam EMS has been instituting measures to deal with high fuel, oil and diesel prices.

"We've started using synthetic oil and that is helping some," Kimble said.

Synthetic consists of chemical compounds which were not originally present in crude oil, but have been artificially made as a substitute for lubricating oil like motor oil refined from petroleum.

Synthetic oil usually costs more than conventional oil, but it extends the time between oil changes.

The EMS has also put a policy into effect that requires that the ambulance motor not be left idling when the vehicle is stopped for an extended, non-emergency purpose, Kimble said.

Putnam County Administrator Brian Donat said that the other county departments have also instituted similar fuel-saving measures.

"This year we've managed to meet the increased gas cost by moving money around from other sections of departmental budget," he said.

Likewise, the county's volunteer fire departments have created their own fuel-use reduction measures.

Kimble said he would like to see the county install its own gasoline tanks, so that gas could be purchased in bulk.

But he noted that for effective coverage at least two tank sites would be necessary.

Donat said such tanks can be difficult to install, since the permitting process is very complex when dealing with tanks for a toxic substance like gasoline.

There is currently no official plan for such installations in the county, he indicated.

But the county is looking at another way of hedging against the fuel price spiral.

"We may start looking at using hybrids in some of the county vehicles when it comes time to replaces cars like the ones used by the assessor's office," he said.

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