By Walt Hunter and Todd Quinones
SPRINGFIELD, Pa. (CBS) -- Members of the Springfield, Delaware County Ambulance Corps fear a decision by the Board of Commissioners to bring in paid staff for some shifts could mark the "beginning of the end" for the only remaining all-volunteer unit in the county.
The Commissioners have decided that a full-time paramedic and EMT/driver, employed by a local hospital, will staff the Springfield headquarters from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays. Volunteers will continue to provide service at other times and on weekends.
Kelly Sweeney, the corps president, says she fears that taking 50 percent of duties away from the 90 volunteers will discourage them and lead to them joining other ambulance crews. The end result, she fears, could be the disappearance of the all-volunteer unit which began 65 years ago.
In a press release announcing the decision, the commissioners say it was based on the fact that "there are times when the volunteers are unable to respond to a call or the response may be delayed."
A spokesperson for the board explained that between January and October 31st, dispatchers had to seek assistance from other ambulance units to cover 330 calls.
But Sweeney says response time is not an issue, claiming that Springfield volunteers average 6 ½ minutes -- well inside the nine minute national standard.
Signs reading "Save our Ambulance" were evident on many lawns around Springfield, as well as outside the ambulance headquarters. Many ambulance members and neighbors attended a caucus meeting of the Springfield Board this evening at 7 p.m.
"Shame on you guys for doing this without coming to us, and at least saying, there's an issue," said Brad Miller, of the Springfield Ambulance Corps.
Some residents voiced their support for the volunteers. One, Debbie Brown, recalled the time her son had sprayed himself in the face with bug spray.
"He burned his corneas," Brown said. "If it wasn't for the speed and the quality of the care these people had given, my son could have had serious damage to his eyes."
Ambulance supporters say that in the long run, patients transported by the ambulance will have to pay more. Currently, for a $25 annual membership, they receive two hospital transports. Additional costs beyond those covered by insurance are waived by the Corps.
Commissioners, however, in their press release say that staffing the headquarters part-time with paid staff will not cost taxpayers anything and that transport costs will remain the same.
The changes in staffing are now set to take place January 1st.
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