Army postpones date to reduce Fort Meade emergency services

County has until June 1 to study effects of cutback

April 04, 2004|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County officials have until June 1 to assess the effects of a decision by Fort Meade to drastically reduce its 24-hour emergency services and instead rely on paramedics from surrounding counties, now that the Army has postponed the effective date until then.

Originally scheduled to take effect tomorrow, the plan was put on hold last week - a decision that left critics hopeful that the Army will find another way to cut costs.

"I think it [the delay] is a good move," said James Goetz, Fort Meade EMS spokesman. "I'm a firm believer that they don't want to lose EMS and that they postponed the decision so they can figure out how to fund us."

Under the plan, paramedics at the Army post - who work out of its Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center - will work from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding holidays.

The change would save the Army about $40,000 a year, about half of what it costs to run the unit of 12 paramedics and three ambulances.

But some fear that the cutbacks will compromise security at the Odenton base and put an undue burden on the Anne Arundel County Fire Department.

Last week, Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens expressed concern that if Fort Meade makes the reductions, the county's Fire Department will have to pick up more emergency calls. That could put an additional strain on a department struggling with poor response times and a staffing crunch.

About 6,000 military families live at the post. It is home to the National Security Administration, one of the state's largest employers; the regional headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency; and the Defense Department's journalism and public-affairs school.

The decision to delay the plan came after sharp criticism from Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who last week wrote a joint letter to Acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee asking him to reconsider the decision.

The congressmen said community impact had not been given enough consideration and expressed security concerns about outside emergency personnel and vehicles entering the post. In response to the Army's decision to postpone action, Ruppersberger said he is optimistic.

"It gives us the opportunity and the time we need to convince the Army of why this is an inappropriate move in relation to the security of those who live and work there," he said.

For Fort Meade EMS workers like Goetz, the delay is a hopeful sign. Still, he said: "What happens after June is anyone's guess."

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