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Northeastern Berks EMS to cease operations

Northeastern Berks EMS to cease operations

The president and chief of the service contends that politics played a key role in the impending demise.

Kutztown, PA —

Northeastern Berks Emergency Medical Service Inc. will end all emergency response operations, the head of the service said Sunday.

Douglas Demchyk, president and chief of the service, said that the organization will finish the month as a 9-1-1 provider while beginning the process of closing, eventually selling off equipment.

He said the decision to close the 16-month-old service was difficult.

“We knew we were bringing a better service,” Demchyk said Sunday. “We knew we were focused on the community.”

The service first announced it was closing Sunday in a post on its Facebook page.

As required by law, Northeastern had notified the Berks County Department of Emergency Services about its plans, Emergency Management Director Brian A. Gottschall said Sunday.

Berks has an EMS plan sanctioned by the state that takes into account issues like this, he said.

“I’m confident while it’s unfortunate that Northeastern has had to take the action they had to take, I don’t believe there’s any risk present to the citizenry that would have otherwise been served,” Gottschall said.

Demchyk said the organization decided to close because of financial and political reasons.

“When you’re trying to get people to invest in and believe in your organization, yet you have politicians who are turning their backs on you, you have to make a decision at some point to say when is enough, enough,” Demchyk said. “There were municipalities willing to work with us, but the big one — Kutztown Borough where we are located in — kind of turned their backs on us.”

Mayor James F. Schlegel was at a Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs convention in Harrisburg on Sunday and deferred comment to borough council President Kevin Snyder.

“I really wasn’t aware (Northeastern) was shutting down,” Schlegel said.

An email to Snyder seeking comment was not answered by press time Sunday.

Demchyk said that he asked Kutztown Borough Council to discuss EMS coverage at meetings but those discussions either never happened or were delayed.

When council met on April 17, Demchyk requested that officials designate the closest EMS station as the primary provider to the borough.

If it passed, Northeastern would have been the primary EMS provider instead of Kutztown Area Transport Service, which is based just outside the borough in Maxatawny Township.

Council voted 5-1 not to designate the closest EMS station as the primary provider, according council’s minutes.

‘Restricted from succeeding’

Demchyk said that Northeastern didn’t fail as an ambulance service provider.

“This organization was restricted from succeeding because of politics,” he claimed, saying that council didn’t want to change the status quo. “We knew it was going to be difficult in the beginning but we thought once we were up and operational we could provide that data, we could persuade change.”

He said that several municipalities worked with Northeastern.

The organization was the primary provider for parts of Albany, Greenwich, Longswamp, Maxatawny and Rockland townships, Demchyk said.

Northeastern employs 20 full-time and six volunteer EMTs and paramedics, who operate two ambulances 24 hours a day, Demchyk said.

The Facebook post said that during the 16 months of operation, Northeastern was dispatched about 500 times and treated nearly 400 patients.

The state Health Department approved Northeastern for operation in August 2016.

Kutztown council approved Northeastern as a backup to Kutztown Area Transport, the borough’s primary provider, at its March 2017 meeting.

KATS to remain

Reached by telephone Sunday, Rodney Freeman, CEO of Kutztown Area Transport Service, read a prepared statement, saying his organization will continue to answer calls in the borough.

“Kutztown Area Transport Service has provided service for over 34 years as the primary ambulance care provider to Kutztown, Maxatawany and parts of Greenwich and Richmond townships,” Freeman said. “We will continue to provide ambulance service without interruption to our communities when 9-1-1 is called.”

KATS operates eight ambulances 24 hours a day, seven days a week from its headquarters along South Kemp Road in Maxatawny Township.

Before getting approved to operate as an EMS service, Northeastern was at odds with the borough zoning hearing board over plans for the station at 220 S. Maple St.

Daniel Eslinger, borough zoning officer, had recommended the application be turned down because ambulance sirens would create excessive noise. The board denied it, a decision overturned by Commonwealth Court, Eslinger told the board at its May 2016 meeting.

While the organization lasted only a short time, Demchyk said that he and the rest of the staff at Northeastern were grateful.

“We just want to thank the community for allowing us the brief time to operate and get out there and do what we love to do,” Demchyk said.

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