Chincoteague Town Council Votes Money for Paramedics

By Linda Cicoira — The population of Chincoteague is aging and when the tourists are in town the need for rescue operations increases. 

Two additional full-time paramedics will respond to calls for help from Chincoteague residents and visitors (and when needed on the mainland) and will be funded with $150,000 provided by the town coffers. 

The Chincoteague Town Council voted unanimously Monday to amend the budget to allow for the spending. The move brings the total funds allocated for such services to about $834,000 annually.

“People of my generation are too old, too decrepit ” for the job, said Accomack Supervisor Billy Joe Tarr, treasurer of the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, which oversees the paid rescuers. “It takes two incomes to have a family and there’s no time to volunteer,” he said of the younger folks. Tarr said the fire company is able to buy the ambulances and maintain them but cannot pay the workers.

Accomack county voted recently to put staff in Greenbackville and Saxis on the mainland. Tarr hopes that will lessen the load for Chincoteague. “But they don’t have the staff for it yet,” he said.

Town officials discussed getting volunteers to drive the ambulance but that too takes hours if a patient is taken to the hospital.

“I’m a driver,” said Councilwoman Denise Bowden. “I don’t get out as much as I used to — obligations. I remember when I was in high school, half the class would leave for a fire … Those days are over … It’s nobody’s fault, but life happens.”

“Those guys are running as hard as they can go and they need all the help they can get,” Mayor Arthur Leonard said. 

“Being a volunteer is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do in your life,” Bowden said later. “You could learn how to drive an ambulance,” but she said the regulations placed on the volunteers grows every day. “It is hard. All together we have a job to do to make this place safe.”

“I’m fully in favor of it,” Vice Mayor Ben Ellis said. “All you have to do is listen to the scanner.” Ellis was elected to the vice mayor’s position by the other council members at the session. He said Chincoteague residents can buy ambulance insurance for $100 a year to cover the costs that insurance doesn’t pay. “I think we need to pass it (funds for the paid workers) but I think we need to have some discussion with the fire department. I know they are buying ambulances and that is expensive.” But, he added, revenue sharing needs to be considered. “I’m just throwing that out there.”

Tarr said the $230,000, to which Ellis was referring, is always put towards buying an ambulance. “Volunteering has become a thing of the past,” said Tarr. “Public safety is going to wind up suffering.” He gave examples of maintenance costs. “A battery is $500.” It costs $1,500 to replace two tires, he said.

Former Councilman Jim Frese, who spoke during the public participation portion of the session, said, “We’re approaching $1 million in costs for emergency services for ambulances. We can’t continue to have the fire company be under the gun … They told us they can’t get volunteers. We can’t afford that. Take it in as an arm of the town, the same as our police department … We’re hearing now where it’s taking longer and longer to get an ambulance to someone who is in trouble. I don’t think we can put it off any longer.”

Next year the plan is to add another two workers for another $150,000, officials agreed.

Island residents also voiced concern about the influx of food trucks on the island. They agreed that ones on Maddox Boulevard are in the commercial corridor and are not in question in comparison to a new one on Church Street that is taking parking spaces from local churches and the funeral home there. Complaints were also made that the truck is close to houses. They asked that improved regulations be made. At one point, Mayor Leonard said the planning commission would look at the situation.

In contrast, Daryl Chrisman said he wanted to use a hotdog pushcart for his existing business but was told he would need four additional parking spaces for a wayside side stand, which is a permanent structure. “All I’m asking for is common sense here,” he told the council and mayor. “It could be moved by one person. It’s pretty small,” Crisman added.

There was also a plea for action to formally oppose off-shore drilling. Town officials took no action on the request.

The town planned to demolish what was deemed an unsafe structure on Cleveland Street after the owners took no action to secure or repair the structure. They got one bid for $9,450.45 from Allen Clark Construction Co. for the job. The owner threatened to take the case to court saying the structure was not a safety hazard and that he wanted to work with the town. In the end, council voted to give him 60 days to investigate a solution. The zoning official will report back in September regarding the situation.

“We live next door,” the owner said. “It’s always been our intention to refurbish. It’s been like that for half a century, another year wouldn’t make any difference.”

Zoning Administrator Kenny Lewis explained the structure’s condition could adversely affect other nearby property if a hurricane came through and tossed the structure about the neighborhood.

Planning for the proposed dog park is continuing, according to a report. “The delineation of the park has changed slightly as we learned that part of the proposed layout was on school board property. The layout now has the park entirely on town property. The area has been reduced slightly from .6 to .5 acre. We continue to work toward a permit.” 

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