Ohma Lee Burns feels she owes her life at least twice to the Baltimore County Fire Department paramedic unit that is stationed just north of Parkton.
Because that unit, designated as Emergency Medical Services (EMS) No. 7, rarely leaves the north county area, it was there last summer when Ohma Lee Burns needed it.
"At least twice they responded when I had heart attacks and saved my life," said the 62-year-old woman who lives off a country road east of the small village of Maryland Line.
That's why Ms. Burns joined about 60 other north county residents who crowded into the Maryland Line Volunteer Fire Hall last night to tell county fire department officials that they want to keep EMS 7 in their area.
But because departmental budget cuts have forced county fire officials to eliminate some positions and do some re-organization, the department decided to replace EMS 7 with an ambulance.
Residents quickly found that the decision was, as they put it, "etched in stone." And they criticized the department for making the decision without community input.
Deputy Fire Chief James H. Barnes Jr. told the residents that the ambulance, which will be called Medic No. 60, will enhance service to the area because it would be able to transport patients.
EMS 7 is a four-wheel drive, 1-ton utility style pickup truck that carries medical equipment and supplies. It is manned on each of four shifts by an EMS lieutenant and one paramedic.
But the four lieutenants will be reassigned to fill vacancies elsewhere in the department and the vehicle used as a reserve in another part of the county.
An EMS lieutenant has the highest paramedic certification -- Emergency Medical Technician Paramedics (EMTP). The paramedic on EMS 7 is a Cardiac Respiratory Technician (CRT).
An EMTP is qualified to insert breathing tubes into a victim's trachea and dispense drugs such as the painkiller morphine and dopamine, which is used to stabilize heart attack victims.
Currently, EMS 7 responds to calls and treats victims until an ambulance arrives to transport them to a hospital. Either the lieutenant supervisor or the paramedic rides with the ambulance and the other stays with Medic 7 so the unit stays in service, Mr. Barnes explained.
The hospitals nearest to Maryland Line are in York, Pa., about 17 miles away, and Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson, about 30 miles away.
The area is now served primarily by ambulances from volunteer companies in Hereford and Cockeysville and from Carroll County and York County, Pa. The nearest county fire department ambulance is in Texas, south of Cockeysville, about 20 minutes away.
Mr. Barnes assured the residents that the ambulance will have at least one paramedic with a EMTP certification on each shift.
But residents made it clear that they preferred the four-wheel-drive vehicle to an ambulance.
"You can't get to my house if the weather's bad unless you have a four-wheel-drive," said Ms. Burns. "If it wasn't for EMS 7, I wouldn't be alive and here at this meeting. . . ."
"If we get an ambulance then it will have to transport victims to the hospital and will be out of service to the area for at least two hours," said Gloria McQuaid, a member of the Maryland Line Area Community Association.
Mr. Barnes told the residents that Medic 60 ambulance will only transport patients if no other ambulance, volunteer or paid, is available.
"The new ambulance unit will operate essentially the same as the supervisor's unit that is there now," Mr. Barnes said.
He also told the residents that the change will be evaluated in three or four months by an advisory committee to see if it is meeting the service needs of the area.