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County votes to terminate Nakina Fire/Rescue contract

An AirLink helicopter lands near a Nakina Fire Rescue ambulance in this 2017 file photo


     Citing a “pattern of poor performance” that has recently gotten worse, Columbus County Commissioners Wednesday voted to terminate the county’s contract with Nakina Fire Rescue.

     That was news to Nakina Fire Rescue Chief John Ward shortly after an emergency meeting called by commissioners, and a closed session preceded the unanimous vote.

     “That’s the first thing I’ve heard of that,” Ward said when contacted by a reporter. “I’ll find out.”

     County Staff Attorney Amanda Prince said the county’s contact with fire and EMS departments requires a 90-day notice, which will begin quickly.

     “We will be notifying them,” Prince said.

Lives at risk

     Commissioner’s chair Ricky Bullard, after the vote, read a prepared statement outlining the decision.

     “Due to a pattern of poor performance that has occurred for years, but has recently deteriorated at Nakina Fire Rescue, lives of the people of the Nakina District are at risk,” Bullard said. “The board of commissioners have taken action today to safeguard our citizens as required by the General Statute 143-517 and executive order.”

     That executive order, Prince explained later, is the state authority under which the North Carolina Officer of Emergency Medical Services operates.

     Prince said the county is prepared to provide fire and EMS services to the Nakina district, and anywhere else when necessary.

     “We have mutual aid agreements, we have the QRV (Quick Response Vehicle for EMS),” Prince said. “We already have a plan to back up our fire and restricts if they go down for any reason.”

Missed shifts

     Ward, the Nakina Fire Rescue Chief, said the department has not missed any calls, but was unable to staff “a couple of shifts” in recent weeks.

     Nakina Fire Rescue’s EMS service operates at the Intermediate level of care, and is required to have at least one certified EMT-Intermediate on each first-out ambulance, while the second person can be certified at a lower level.

     “We had a  couple of shifts that we did not have an “I” (EMT-Intermediate) available,” Ward said. “One time they had COVID, another time there was a death.”

     Mutual aid departments from surrounding districts with support from the county QRV covered the Nakina district during those times, Ward said.

     A QRV is a Paramedic staffed vehicle equipped to provide emergency care until an ambulance can arrive for transport.

Previous suspension

     Nakina Fire Rescue’s ambulance service was suspended for nearly three months in 2021 by the state Office of Emergency Medical Service for failing to have advanced level personnel on some calls and failing to provide some proper documentation.

     During that suspension the fire department continued to operate.

     Prince said Wednesday that additional details about the county’s decision and steps moving forward will be addressed, beginning with a news release she said should be available Thursday morning.

     Look for updates here as events warrant and the full story in the next Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.