Newell defends ambulance purchase

PARKERSBURG – An ambulance purchased by the city Fire Department will be used only if no other ambulances are available, Mayor Bob Newell told City Council members Tuesday evening.

Also during council’s regular meeting in its chambers Tuesday, council unanimously approved a pay increase plan for employees and voted to send a resolution prohibiting people from allowing animals to drink from water fountains at city parks to the Public Works Committee.

Council was considering the first reading of an ordinance to schedule an auction of city property for Sept. 13 when Councilman John Kelly asked Fire Chief Eric Taylor about the three ambulances he’d seen parked behind a fire station. Taylor said they’d been purchased at an auction in Columbus when a company went out of business.

Taylor said the money – less than $12,000 – came from the department’s medical supplies line item. When Kelly questioned that, Newell interjected.

“I authorized that purchase, if anybody’s interested,” the mayor said. “We have an ambulance problem in this community, if you’ve been paying attention at all.”

Newell referred to an incident in September when a woman suffered a heart attack at her residence on 59th Street in Vienna. An ambulance from one of the providers in Wood County was unavailable, and one was dispatched from Wirt County. A Parkersburg fire truck was sent instead and transported the woman to the hospital. She later died.

That happened before LIFE Ambulance went out of business late last year, Newell noted. LIFE did not respond to emergency calls, but it was expected its medical transport business would be picked up by St. Joseph’s and Camden Clark ambulance services.

A fire department ambulance would be used when no other ambulance was available, Newell said, but it would not be in regular rotation or in competition with existing ambulance services.

“It’s not going to be saving a life every day, but it certainly could help,” he said.

Councilwomen Nancy Wilcox and Sharon Lynch took issue with the matter not being brought before council.

“Good deal, no good deal … I just don’t think the proper procedures were followed,” Wilcox said.

Newell said city officials learned of the auction shortly before it was happening and there was not time to present the matter to a council committee.

“Sometimes I do have to make a decision on my own, and I made it,” he said.

Although three ambulances were bought, only one is expected to be outfitted for service, Newell said. The others will be used for spare parts.

Lynch asked Taylor if the department would be required to fully equip the ambulance like one for St. Joseph’s or Camden Clark. He said they would and added he’d discussed the matter with the two ambulance services and they were willing to help.

Lynch asked Taylor to report to a council committee when those plans were completed.

There was no discussion on an ordinance reclassifying a number of positions and instituting a 2.5 percent, across-the-board pay increase for city workers, excluding department heads. The proposal is meant to base pay more on the duties associated with positions than the individuals in them and was discussed at length in a finance committee meeting on Aug. 6.

The changes will cost the city an additional $400,144 over an entire fiscal year but less this year since it won’t go into effect until at least September.

In other business, council voted 8-1, with Councilman Roger Brown opposed, to send a resolution aimed at preventing people from letting their dogs drink out of water fountains at city parks to the Public Works Committee.

“Seems like this might be an issue (that might) come back to bite us,” Councilman Jim Reed said, to several laughs, as he made the motion.

Kelly said the issue was brought up to him by individuals who’d witnessed people holding their pets up to the fountains at City Park to take a drink. He said years ago, the city dealt with the problem by putting bowls by fountains and placing signs reminding people they were for the animals. Newell has said he would be willing to place more bowls at fountains.

Councilman Mike Reynolds said he didn’t disagree with the concept, but wondered how effective such a rule would be.

“It’s probably going to be another one of those issues nobody’s going to be able to enforce,” he said.