Ambulances & Vehicle Ops, Communications & Dispatch, News

Ex-Dispatcher Worried about Conditions at Life Ambulance

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A former dispatcher and emergency medical technician at Life Ambulance’s St. Albans ambulance station says she is worried about conditions at the facility.

Lori Huffman, an EMT and dispatcher who was fired from Life Ambulance last month, said administrators are cutting corners at the St. Albans ambulance station.

“There are no set rules down there, and there should be,” Huffman said. “There’s a lot of fine-tuning they need to do.

“You have good people working for a company that has poor management.”

Huffman was fired last month for allegedly listening in on emergency ambulance calls and responding to the scene of an accident on U.S. 60 near St. Albans – a practice known as “call jumping.”

Kanawha County officials accuse Life Ambulance crews of jumping calls to beat county ambulances to accident scenes, all for profit.

Huffman said she wasn’t call jumping when she came upon the accident.

She said she was working dispatch and took a Life Ambulance vehicle out for a pack of cigarettes when a county ambulance passed her on U.S. 60.

Before she got to her destination, she came upon a car wreck blocking both sides of the road.

But Huffman said some Life Ambulance crews jump calls, despite a company policy against the practice.

“The radios that we have in the dispatch center don’t even have Kanawha County’s frequencies,” Huffman said. But she said most EMTs and paramedics who work at Life Ambulance also work for other local emergency agencies, and some use their personal radios and pagers to hunt for emergency calls.

Doug Avery, chief operations officer for Life Ambulance’s main office in Portsmouth, Ohio, said ambulance service employees caught call jumping will be disciplined.

Huffman, who has 11 years experience in emergency service and has worked for Kanawha and Putnam county ambulance services and the Institute Fire Department, said she is more worried about procedural violations at the St. Albans ambulance station than about call jumping.

Huffman’s allegations include falsified documents and forged signatures and employees being asked to be less than truthful on records of ambulance runs.

Avery said he hadn’t heard about any of Huffman’s allegations.

“I follow all the state’s guidelines down there,” he said. “We’re open for surprise inspections at any time.”

But Avery said he would check into the situation in St. Albans.

Avery said he wants to meet with Kanawha County officials and work out a system so both ambulance services can work together.

“I don’t want to keep this battle going back and forth,” he said.

“That way. all the patients are taken care of, not just the emergencies and not just the transport cases.

“I just want both companies to look professional,” he said. “I just want us to work together as a team.”

Reach Rusty Marks at [email protected] or 348-1215.