Service dropped in Hope

HOPE — The Hope Volunteer Fire Department is ending ambulance service that it has provided to residents in Hope and Hawcreek Township for the past 50 years.

Due to the rising cost of maintaining the ambulance unit and a lack of certified personnel, the Hope volunteers had no choice but to discontinue the service, according to the department’s open letter to the community.

The cost of certifying an emergency medical technician, which takes four to six months of training, is $600 to $1,000, the letter stated.

While the department has paid for EMT training, a number of individuals have used their certification to obtain jobs elsewhere, Hope Fire Chief Bruce Neal said.

There also have been several cases where the training was paid upfront, but the individual did not take the classes, Neal said. For that reason, the department no longer will pay for training until after an individual completes the course, he said.

“We have a number of people in Hope asking us why our ambulance can’t run,” Neal said. “We just don’t have the EMT to put on it as we are required to have. And we can’t transport someone on a fire engine.”

In addition, the department has to purchase all equipment and supplies and take out a $1 million malpractice insurance policy, the letter stated.

However, town officials point out that the local fire department’s ambulance service is merely a backup for Columbus Regional Hospital, the primary ambulance provider for all of Bartholomew County, including Flatrock and Hawcreek townships.

“If there were a medical run right in front of the Hope Fire Department, Columbus Regional would be dispatched before we were,” Neal said.

Although the local fire department no longer will operate an ambulance as it has since the 1960s, firefighters trained in first aid and basic life support will still be dispatched during emergency runs, Neal said. The volunteers will utilize equipment and supplies carried on fire trucks until an ambulance arrives from Columbus, the letter stated.

“That’s basically what they have been doing,” Hope Town Council President Paula Pollett said. “I don’t see a change other than the vehicle they’re using.”

The change, effective June 1, is the latest in a string of problems facing the 103-year-old fire department.

In early January, the Hope Town Council decided to hold off renewing its annual $69,000 contract with the Hope firefighting and rescue unit, which functions as an independent nonprofit organization.

Since the department is being sued for $189,000 plus legal fees and interest by a contractor it hired to build the still-incomplete new fire station, town council members expressed concern that the department might not have the financial means to operate if it loses the lawsuit.

While court records state that contractor Tim Ross and the fire department will try to work out a settlement by November, the earliest trial date before Bartholomew Superior Court I Judge James Worton on the matter is scheduled for January.

A mediation session between Ross’ company and the department was conducted May 6 in Bloomington, Neal said. While the fire chief said it did not “produce anything positive,” he said another session will be held in about a month.

Although the Hope Volunteer Fire Department is receiving about $40,000 annually from the Hawcreek Township trustee to provide fire protection, it has not received a quarterly payment from the town of Hope since December, Neal said.

“We’re basically at a standstill,” Pollett said. “We’re still trying to work out a contract, and (Neal) assures us they are providing fire protection.”

The town did not reach an agreement with the fire department on its 2014 contract until April of last year, Hope Clerk-Treasurer Diane Burton said.

“We jumped through several hoops last year to get something done, and we’re doing it again this year,” Neal said. “We just want the people to know we’ve been fighting fires in Hope all year for nothing. We’re going to continue, but it is discouraging.”

When Hope volunteers are unavailable or need assistance, the Clifford Volunteer Fire Department provides service on the west side of State Road 9 in the Hope area.

Backup calls originating on the east side of the highway are handled by Hartsville volunteers under the same circumstances.

Call 911 for emergency assistance

Although the ambulance service offered by the Hope Volunteer Fire Department will no longer be available beginning in June, residents of northeast Bartholomew County should continue reporting emergencies as they have in the past. 

Residents and businesses in the Hope area should call 911 for all emergencies. It is up to the Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center to determine appropriate and available services for each type of emergency originating in Flatrock and Hawcreek townships.

What's next?

Members of the Hope Volunteer Fire Department have asked to speak to the Hope Town Council on Monday. Fire Chief Bruce Neal said leaders and members of the department want to address a number of issues, including lack of a fire-protection contract with the town, when the council meets at 5:30 p.m. in the Hope Town Hall, 104 West St.

Hope Volunteer Fire Department

Established: 1912, reorganized in 1952.

Membership: 25 volunteers, includes emergency medical technicians and two career firefighters.

Average annual number of responses to emergencies: 50.

Additional responsibilities for volunteers: Training, maintaining equipment, meeting state and federal requirements, fire prevention education and attending business meetings vital to the organization.

Source of income: Contracting services to community as an independent, not-for-profit corporation, and through fundraising.

Current headquarters: 728 Harrison St., Hope.

Future headquarters: Corner of South and Aiken streets, Hope.

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.