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Squad Gets the Boot by EMS Chief

HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. -- The Orange County Rescue Squad has been kicked out of the 911 system after a laundry list of complaints leveled by the county's new emergency services director.

On June 27, Frank Montes de Oca Jr., Orange County Emergency Services director, ordered the private, volunteer rescue squad removed from the county's dispatch system. In a memo, he cited safety concerns and said county emergency services supervisors should order Rescue Squad members to leave if they showed up at accident scenes. He said police would be called if necessary.

On Tuesday, Rescue Squad Chief Brian Matthews said he never got to respond to the allegations before the order to stand down. It took him by surprise, he said, "like the rug got jerked out from under us."

In a preliminary report dated July 1, Montes de Oca outlined "an extensive history of unsafe and unprofessional practices, strange behavior" by Rescue Squad members.

In June, he wrote, the squad's "Rescue 1" truck responded to an accident on Interstate 40. "Failing to secure the equipment door on their unit, many pieces of equipment fell out. ... Not only did this create an unsafe road hazard for motorists and the public, it reduced the unit's capabilities to render aid."

Montes de Oca, who became head of the county's emergency operations in April, also wrote that he once saw Rescue Squad members driving too fast and pulling out of their station unsafely, causing cars to stop short.

On one occasion, said the report, Rescue Squad members were using a circular saw to cut a victim out of a car. "The saw caused a shower of sparks that were landing in a pool of gasoline in which the members were standing," the report reads.

Matthews, a member of the Rescue Squad since 1992 and a Hillsborough police officer, said many of the accusations were baseless. Some, he said, were mistakes the squad has learned from. Matthews said other accusations were too vague for the squad to respond to.

"The Rescue Squad's been doing this a long time," Matthews said. "We know what we're doing."

Rescue Squad officers and county staff have since met to talk about the report and set goals that could allow the Rescue Squad to start responding to emergencies again, Matthews said. Efforts to reach Montes de Oca were unsuccessful.

On Tuesday, Matthews said he'll be meeting in August with county emergency services staff to go over the squad's training.

Matthews, chief since May, promised a higher level of discipline. "People are being held accountable for their actions," he said. He added that Montes de Oca's reference in the original memo to calling police was unnecessary.

The Rescue Squad has about 30 members and partially supports itself through donations. While it has ambulances, it specializes in cutting accident victims out of cars. A second volunteer organization, the South Orange Rescue Squad, specializes in other types of rescue work.

The Orange County Rescue Squad has an annual budget of about $200,000.

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