Fort Meade to reduce hours of emergency services

March 26, 2004|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Fort Meade will sharply reduce its round-the-clock emergency response services and rely instead on off-post ambulances from surrounding counties to answer 911 calls at the Odenton base in the next two weeks.

Base officials notified the Army post's paramedics and the Anne Arundel County Fire Department this week that, effective April 5, Fort Meade paramedics no longer will work 24 hours a day. Instead, the base's paramedics will work from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and also be off on weekends and holidays.

The cuts for paramedics, who work out of the Army's Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center, will save the Army about $400,000 a year - roughly half the cost of running the 12-paramedic, three-ambulance unit, said Fort Meade EMS spokesman James Goetz.

John Peters, Kimbrough's EMS and primary care chief, said the staff began looking for ways to cut costs at the Army's request. Peters said the staff surveyed call volumes and concluded the new hours covered the base during peak times.

The prospect of the Anne Arundel County Fire Department picking up Fort Meade emergency calls comes at a difficult time for the department, which is struggling with poor response times, a staffing crunch and heavy reliance on overtime for paramedics.

Goetz and his fellow Fort Meade paramedics, who are Department of Defense employees, worry that the cost-saving measure may compromise care to soldiers and their families.

"If you're seeing a reduction in service, and one life is lost, what cost is that?" he asked. "Is it worth it to save $400,000 a year for that life? My answer is no."

Fort Meade's paramedics can reach just about any office or residence on the 5,000-acre post in about five minutes, Goetz said.

That includes the National Security Agency, one of the state's largest employers; the regional headquarters for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and the Defense Department's journalism and public-affairs school.

The closest Anne Arundel County EMS unit is in Jessup.

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