Missing certification grounds first responders in Van Buren Township

VAN BUREN TWP. — Van Buren Township residents have no first responders living among them who are legally able to respond to medical emergencies right now because both fire departments there are missing a certification.

The Brown County (Nashville) Volunteer Fire Department is being dispatched instead of a volunteer from one of the departments based in the township, along with a Columbus Regional Hospital ambulance, said Nick Kelp, a dispatcher and chief of the Nashville fire department.

If Nashville volunteers aren’t available, volunteers from Hamblen Township Volunteer Fire Department will be called, along with an ambulance.

In the past three weeks, Nashville Fire has responded to four medical calls in Van Buren Township and Hamblen Fire has responded to one, according to dispatch logs.

Brown County Dispatch stopped calling the Van Buren Volunteer Fire Department for medical emergencies Oct. 12.

Leaders of a new volunteer fire department, Southern Brown, told residents they would start responding to calls Oct. 15. Southern Brown now holds the fire protection contract for the township instead of the Van Buren Volunteer Fire Department, because of a lengthy legal dispute with the trustee’s office over a former contract.

However, neither Van Buren nor Southern Brown have the certification required by the state to provide medical service, said Susan Armstrong, the Brown County Emergency Management Agency director.

Under state law, any fire department, paid or volunteer, must have a non-transport BLS (basic life support) certification, Armstrong said.

That certification says that a department has shared information with the state about the vehicles and personnel who will respond to medical emergencies; and has an agreement with an ambulance service provider that ensures that “patients treated shall be transported in a timely and safe manner.”

Certified departments are required to follow rigid sanitation procedures; have a medical director; show compliance with training standards; establish protocols for treatment; keep accurate records; and have an adequate communications system.

Even if the department has individuals on it who are certified to provide medical care, the department still needs this certification, Armstrong said.

Five of Brown County’s seven volunteer fire departments are certified: Nashville, Cordry-Sweetwater, Fruitdale, Hamblen Township and Jackson Township, according a database kept by the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. Nashville’s and Fruitdale’s certificates will need to be renewed at the end of this year; the other three are good until April.

The Van Buren Township trustee and advisory board were aware that this certification was not in place when they signed a contract with Southern Brown on Sept. 7. Page two says that Southern Brown shall get BLS non-transport certification within six months of signing the contract.

Trustee Vicki Payne said that as of Oct. 23, Southern Brown still was working on it, and the latest estimate she’d heard was that it was two to three weeks from getting certified.

Certification also requires that a department have certain equipment, and the township would need to buy that using its cumulative fund, she said.

Chief John Ward of the Van Buren Volunteer Fire Department said he’s also working on getting the certification for his department, but he could not say how long it might take.

“Van Buren Volunteer Fire Department has served Van Buren Township 40-plus years, both fire and medical,” he said in a written statement. “… Unfortunately, we did not realize that there was a mandate (for this certification) in place. This was brought before us and we are working towards rectifying that situation with the state EMS director so as to get back to service.”

Kelp brought the Nashville Town Council up to speed on the certification situation at its October meeting so the council would know why Nashville volunteers might be making more runs outside their area.

“I have told my department … if it comes down to a tossup between here or there, sorry about them (Van Buren), but here’s where I’m supposed to take care of,” Kelp said.

Van Buren VFD has other hurdles besides this certification. Since it does not have a contract with the township trustee, the sheriff has instructed Brown County Dispatch to call Southern Brown to emergencies in the township, based on legal advice he’d received.

Ward said he doesn’t know if VBVFD will be called to medical emergencies even if it gets certified, but “there won’t be a reason not to.”

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Sara Clifford has been raising a family in Brown County since 2005 and leading the Brown County Democrat since late 2009. In addition to editor, she is the beat reporter for town government and writes columns, features and general news stories.