By Malcolm Butler
While much of Thursday’s Ambulance Committee meeting in the Jack Beard Room of the Lincoln Parish Library was simply a presentation by the city and Pafford EMS, there were some obvious frustrations and concerns that came from all parties.
Tension has been constant over the past months since the Lincoln Parish Police Jury voted against the City of Ruston’s $645,604 proposal during the July meeting.
And as the end of the calendar year gets closer and closer, concerns about what could possibly lie ahead starting in January are having a direct impact on emotions.
Following a relatively quiet – and some may say underproductive – meeting Thursday where both the city and Pafford made their presentations, Ruston Fire Chief Chris Womack came back to the table during the public comments portion of the agenda.
And he left little doubt about where he stood with the process.
“We started this process back in March,” said Womack. “And where are we at today? The same place. It’s unacceptable. This room was full Tuesday night because … of this process. People are fed up. I can’t speak for the Fire District, but as far as the Fire Department and the City, I am fed up. And the citizens of the parish are fed up. Something needs to be done.”
Womack said he felt that the committee members should have been much more pointed with their questions for both the city proposal and Pafford’s proposal.
“You should have asked more questions of me a while ago,” Womack continued. “I think everyone knows where this board stands today. You could have voted today. Do your job. Ask the appropriate questions.
“If you want me, you can get me 24 hours a day. If you want Chief Reynolds, you can get him 24 hours a day. You want Shane (Davison), you can get him 24 hours a day. Ask the questions. Ask the hard questions. Want the facts. And then come back and make a decision and let’s get this settled.”
By late Thursday afternoon, Womack was calmer but still had the same message during a phone interview.
“It was really frustrating to sit there today,” said Womack. “Quit throwing up softballs. Ask the hard questions. You could tell which side they are on by the questions. They throw softballs up there (based on) whichever side they are on. It’s obvious.
“They need to get a piece of paper and ask the tough questions. Basically have a score sheet. Pros and cons and then make an informed decision and stand behind the decision. But it’s personal grievances overriding good decision making.”
Womack wasn’t the only one who has voiced his aggravation at the process. Lincoln Parish Fire District Chief Kevin Reynolds said he feels all three parties have been put in a tough position.
“Chief Womack said it this morning,” said Reynolds. “Shane said it this morning. And we will all continue to say it. We all have a really good working relationship. And that is something we strive to maintain. I feel like this has become a political issue and it has put us in the middle of a situation that we didn’t necessarily ask to be put in. From all of our standpoints, I think all of us are aggravated at the process.”
The City of Ruston Fire Chief knows regardless of where the Lincoln Parish Police Jury ultimately lands when it votes in October, it will take all three entities working together.
“Ruston Fire is not the end all solution to everything,” said Womack. “Neither is Pafford. Neither is the parish. We all have pros and we all have cons.”
Ruston’s proposal is a 5-year contract where the city would handle all ambulance and rescue services – just as it has for decades. However, Womack said he feels the long-term solution includes the Lincoln Parish Fire District eventually taking over rescue outside of the city limits.
“In a perfect world in my opinion we would run the EMS for the entire parish emergencies, (the Fire District) would the rescue for the parish, and Pafford would do the non-emergency,” said Womack. “And we are all still here to assist when needed.”
However, come January 1st, the two choices are the city handling everything except for non-emergency transport or a combination of Pafford EMS and the Lincoln Parish First District handling ambulance and rescue for those who live outside the city limits.
Regardless of which entity takes what ultimately, they all voiced personnel concerns for the January 1 contract start date.
“The manpower part,” said Reynolds. “Getting guys hired and trained up.
“Based on the jury’s previous decision we have been marching forward as though we are going to do this on January 1st. Now if they decide to go with the city that’s fine. We will continue to operate the way that we have. And we will continue the role we have now.”
Reynolds and LPFD board member Richard Aillet both said the Fire District has been working on grants to purchase additional rescue equipment needed and that they would be ready to roll January 1 if the LPPJ selects that option.
However, Reynolds did say if the City was selected, it would provide the Fire District more time to get to the same point.
“Obviously it would change the pressure on getting the needed equipment and manpower so you can spread that cost out over a longer period of time,” said Reynolds. “You don’t have to do it all at once to get things up and running. That’s kind of the position we’re in now.
“If they go with the city, what it does for us as far as the rescue side of it, it gives us more time to prepare. It gives us more time to go out and get some of the larger grants … That process takes a while. You can’t do it overnight.”
The price tag from all three entities (City, Fire District, Pafford) includes hiring additional manpower. So all three are feeling a time crunch.
Reynolds praised the working relationship of all three parties.
“The city does an excellent job,” said Reynolds. “Pafford does an excellent job. We all work well together. I think the citizens of the parish would like to see their money stay with organizations that are local.
“What we have heard and my thoughts on it … the citizens are about to be forced into investing in a fire department. And we feel like the citizens of the parish should have the option to invest in their own fire department.
“I can’t really speak for the board but that’s my take on it. At the end of the day it’s up to the (Lincoln Parish Police Jury) where the money goes and where the money comes from.”
And that decision should come in October.
“We will get there either way,” said Womack. “It’s going to be what it’s going to be. January 1 somebody will be there to respond. This has been a really winding road to get to a point that could have been a straight line.”
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