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Rescue squad may be back on this week

HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. -- Nearly six months after a stand-down order that put the Orange County Rescue Squad temporarily out of service, the county's emergency services director said he hopes to have the squad reinstated sometime this week.

"I'm putting them back online with some very specific stipulations, [but] we still have to get through some logistical issues with bringing them back online," Frank Montes de Oca, emergency services director for the county, told the county commissioners this week.

Montes de Oca put the rescue squad on stand-down in June after allegations of careless and reckless behavior at accident scenes and a lack of professionalism at the squad's Churton Street station. Before the stand-down order, OCRS was dispatched through the 911 system to scenes, usually vehicle wrecks in which someone needed to be extricated from the vehicle.

One of the stipulations for the squad's reinstatement has involved redefining its role from that of "heavy rescue provider." For example, Montes de Oca and OCRS Chief Brian Matthews agreed that it is no longer necessary for OCRS to provide vehicle extrication services, since fire departments are already providing -- or will soon be providing -- this service.

Instead, the squad will provide medical support for special events, overflow medical support and land search-and-rescue. Montes de Oca said he plans to present to the commissioners after the first of the year an updated franchise agreement that will reflect the changes. The franchise agreement has not been updated since 1993.

The decision to reinstate OCRS comes after Montes de Oca told the commissioners in September that he did not believe OCRS was meeting the staffing standards set forth by either the N.C. Association of Rescue and Emergency Medical Services or by Orange County for a rescue squad. Matthews spoke in defense of the squad at the September meeting, however, and decried a lack of documentation concerning the allegations.

Commissioner Mike Nelson at the time questioned whether there had been adequate communication on both sides of the issue, and the BOCC asked Montes de Oca to give the rescue squad the "due process" that had been lacking thus far.

Working together

Since then, Montes de Oca's department has been working with the rescue squad to obtain and review rosters and training documentation, update mandatory classes, and inspect vehicles and facilities for compliance with state and local requirements.

Montes de Oca wrote in a memo to the commissioners that there are lessons to be learned from the incidents that prompted the discussion he had with Matthews. "Rather than attempting to find fault, both entities have agreed to move forward," Montes de Oca wrote. "Failure existed at both ends of the responsibility spectrum.

"I was encouraged by Chief Matthews' candor and willingness to explore ways in which OCRS could reinvent itself," Montes de Oca continued. "We are both looking forward to continued discussions to ensure the viability and future of emergency services in Orange County."

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