A request to change the title and increase the pay of a currently vacant Washington County emergency services position to better align with the job’s responsibilities, and to hire a new person to fill the vacancy, drew mixed reviews from county leaders last week.
It also raised concern from officers of at least two county volunteer EMS companies, who said they were not consulted or even notified of the request made by county Division of Emergency Services Director Kevin Lewis.
Smithsburg EMS Chief James Ulrich, who serves as acting chairman of the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association’s EMS committee, said Friday that he and others from volunteer companies did not learn of the proposal until they saw a copy of the agenda a few days before last Tuesday’s meeting of the Washington County Board of Commissioners.
“So we didn’t have any input into what the job responsibilities would be” or how the job would interact with the volunteer companies, he said.
Lewis asked the county commissioners to modify the current Emergency Medical Services coordinator position — formerly held by the late Brigitte Heller — and convert it to an assistant director of EMS operations position.
Lewis asked that the pay for the position be increased from Grade 12 to the county’s Grade 14 level, a move he said would bring it more in line with its supervisory duties, which include directly overseeing the county’s eight paid staff paramedics, as well as coordinating with volunteer EMS companies.
Previously, the EMS coordinator was on the same pay scale as the employees in the positions being supervised, Lewis said.
Saying he shares Ulrich’s concerns, R. David Hays, assistant chief of Community Rescue Service in Hagerstown, said in an email Friday that the occurrence illustrates ongoing “bilateral decisions and system changes being made without inclusion or consideration/input” from the county’s eight volunteer EMS companies.
“The recent proposal to reclassify the EMS coordinator’s position was not announced to the EMS companies, written or verbal,” before it was included on the commissioners’ agenda, Hays said.
The EMS coordinator job was first created under the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, or WCVFRA, and later transferred to the county’s payroll. Heller held the job since its creation, Lewis said.
Commissioners President Terry Baker on Tuesday asked Lewis if he solicited input from volunteer EMS personnel in developing the new position. Lewis said he had not because it’s a county staff position.
Lewis and Deputy Director Charles Summers told the commissioners that the position’s current responsibilities include numerous administrative tasks that have been traditionally undervalued since its creation.
“I truly believe that needs to be addressed,” Summers told the five commissioners. “That position needs to hold a higher grade. That’s just standard business.”
A Grade 12 advanced life support technician II for the county has a starting base salary of $40,859 plus benefits and increases to about $60,000 with step increases, Lewis said. The Grade 14 pay scale starts at $47,658 plus benefits, he said.
“We took basically a comparison of what’s already there ... to try to make them in line with the specific grade request,” Lewis said.
With the coordinator job vacant, Lewis said the department has been forced to pay overtime to employees to cover the job’s responsibilities. Shawn Hartsock, a full-time county medic, has been handling the majority of the tasks during the interim, in addition to his regular duties, he said.
“In the absence of this position, someone else will still have to do that work,” he said.
With Summers already reporting directly to Lewis, Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham said it appeared that the change would have two employees doing essentially the same job, saying she wasn’t sure how the job description of assistant director differed from the deputy director, a Grade 16 position.
“I find that problematic,” she said during Tuesday’s meeting.
The proposal for the job modification was never discussed with the WCVFRA membership as a whole or the EMS committee, Ulrich said, stressing he was speaking solely as a concerned company chief and not on behalf of the entire committee.
“Our concern was that we couldn’t support something we didn’t know anything about,” he said. “Certainly, we would have to interact with that person and we just had some concerns regarding it.”
Hays said decisions like the one proposed by Lewis have a direct affect on the volunteer EMS companies, the members of which provide a large portion of physical transport and advanced life support services to county residents.
“In many situations, the volunteer EMS companies have to implement, and for the most part finance, what is put forth by DES (Division of Emergency Services),” he said.
Volunteer EMS companies receive a subsidy from the county to help pay salaries, but it does not cover the entire department’s operating cost, Hays said, underscoring the volunteer community’s need to be part of any decision that affects the county’s EMS service as a whole.
Hays said he hopes an open dialogue with county administration will take place soon to help refocus the collective partnership and relationship between all components of EMS programs in the county.
Hays said neither the CRS chief officers nor the board of directors has taken an official stance on the requested job change or the communication issue within the county.
After the discussion Tuesday, the commissioners said they felt more information and deliberation on the issue were needed before the board could make a decision.