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Hillsville studies rescue relaunch

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — State code does not seem to support the idea that Carroll County has to sign off on reactivating Hillsville Rescue Squad, at least the way town officials read the law.

Officials closed the Hillsville Rescue Squad four years ago after a former captain inappropriately used an ambulance to haul furniture from Marion, but last year Hillsville Town Council members started a push to revive the agency.

A setback came Feb. 8 with a letter that County Administrator Gary Larrowe wrote to town officials explaining that the Carroll emergency services board and the supervisors both voted to deny a "certificate of need" for Hillsville Rescue Squad.

Town officials, though, aren't convinced that Carroll County has a say in the matter, after doing more research.

For one, Hillsville representatives point to the "provision of firefighting or emergency medical services" in the Code of Virginia.

"Any county, city or town may contract with or provide for any volunteer firefighting or emergency medical services companies or associations in the county, city or town..." the law says.

It goes on to say that these emergency services may be provided by volunteers.

Town Manager Larry South doesn't see much room for interpretation in that language. "To me, it's clear cut that we can do what we want to do."

However, he has forwarded information about the rescue squad issue to attorney Carter Glass.

Hillsville has emergency medical service coverage mainly through the paid Carroll Emergency Medical Services, which is backed up by volunteer rescue squads in the county.

While the EMS is located in town, there can be delays in getting a response if the members are busy on other emergency medical calls, South said. If that's the case, the closest available rescue squad has to respond.

Those other rescue squads to a good job — it's just that they have to come from eight or 10 miles away, the town manager said. "To have to wait on an ambulance from other rescue areas, it makes a stronger case that it's really stupid for those ambulances [at the Hillsville Rescue Squad building] to be sitting out there idle."

There was a day when two crews had to respond from Pipers Gap, after a boy got a head injury and a woman was having heart issues at practically the same time, he recalled. This happened when the EMS was otherwise occupied.

"I do not understand the reluctance of the county to let the [Hillsville] rescue squad operate," he said.

County officials have said they worry about what happens if Hillsville Rescue Squad received a call and couldn't respond. The delay could be "fatal" to some, they said.

Hillsville Rescue Squad did miss some calls when it was operating, but South didn't feel like it missed any more than other volunteer squads.

He felt that the town squad's missed calls were more noticeable simply because of the large volumes of calls that it received.

With the EMS in town, there shouldn't be too much of a delay in emergency medical response if volunteers with a reconstituted town rescue squad couldn't make it.

He also understands that the Hillsville Fire Department now has a fire responder service, too.

"That argument holds a lot less water nowadays than it did before the paid EMS service," South said.