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7/25/05-Grand Saline

City May Lose EMS If Citizens Don't Pay

Six dollars a month could mean the difference between life and death for nearly 9,000 East Texans. The Grand Saline EMS is in a financial crisis and may have to shut down.

That's because for the last seven months, residents were no longer required to pay a $6 monthly fee to support their local ambulance service. The fee became voluntary.

That has created an emergency for the city and its surrounding communities.

Married for 53 years, Donald and Glo Miller are no strangers to the emergency room. Donald has lung disease. He gets rushed to the hospital as often as two times a month.

"And when he gets real bad, he gets bad quick," Glo said. "And when I call 911, they're here."

They are the Grand Saline EMS paramedics. They respond to about 130 calls a month across 100 square miles of eastern Van Zandt County.

Since December, EMS has lost $49,000. You see, half of the residents who used to pay the monthly $6 fee have now opted out. A new opinion from the attorney general forced the city to stop charging citizens a mandatory fee, forcing EMS to cut back on equipment and personnel.

"There have been a few situations, where we've had to call for help from another city," Stephen Gray, director of operations, said.

That could become a permanent, everyday reality as soon as two months from now. If EMS continues to lose money at this rate, it may have to shut down.

Without a local ambulance service, it would take up to four or five times longer for an outside ambulance to respond to calls for help. That means five minutes could turn into 20.

"If it's a serious call, then you could make the difference between life and death," Gray said.

Mayor Terry Tolar knows that firsthand as a former paramedic, who says his father would not have survived, if not for a local ambulance.

"I do not want to see an outside company come in," the 3rd-term mayor said. "I want to see these gentlemen stay here."

"You know, there's been times that I feel like that had I not had them, I wouldn't have had him," Glo said of her husband.

Whether the emergency workers stay depends on $6 a month from the people they serve.

Tonight, a group of concerned citizens met in Grand Saline. They plan to go door-to-door to raise money for their local EMS and they're open to any other fundraising ideas.

Meanwhile, the mayor is trying to get Van Zandt County commissioners to designate their area as an emergency district, so the city's EMS can receive funding.

Julie Tam, reporting.

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