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Masontown VFD aiming to expand services

MASONTOWN — Masontown Fire & Rescue is seeking to upgrade its state medical certification from basic life support to advanced life support to better serve Preston County.

“Advanced life support is paramedic level; they can give more drugs, IVs that type stuff,” Chief Dan Luzier said.

Without that certification, even paramedics in the department, such as Christel Feather who works as a medic in Monongalia County, can’t perform medic duties while on calls for Masontown.

Firefighters are often first on the scene to medical calls, which accounted for 78.6% of all calls over the past five years, Luzier told The Dominion Post.

“It’s just the difference between us responding here and waiting for an ambulance to come from Kingwood that makes that — time makes a difference.”

By bringing an ALS certification to Masontown, the department will be able to provide more life-saving skills in this end of the county, Feather said.

Masontown is up for recertification in July and they believe they can be ready to upgrade by then — if they can finish the checklist of requirements. The department is purchasing most of what it needs, including medications.

Last week, Luzier asked the Preston County Commission for help in purchasing a requirement with a major cost, a more-than-$45,000 heart monitor.

“I’m asking for any amount of help you can give us on this monitor, because it is a tremendous amount of money,” Luzier said.

Luzier is the reason Feather is with the department. 

“Dan saved my dad’s life years ago,” Feather said. “And when I came back home, that’s why I joined this department. If it wasn’t for Dan and Masontown Fire Department, my dad wouldn’t be here. He had a massive heart attack and Dan was there. He started CPR, did what needed to be done, got the helicopter and got my dad to definitive care.”

Everyone in the county deserves that same level of service, she said. Luzier said the department has made a difference in two cardiac arrests so far this year.

Masontown has four paramedics, but there won’t be 24/7 coverage, and Luzier said he wanted to make sure he wasn’t misleading anyone. All four have jobs with ambulance services.

“We’re all volunteers and they’re volunteering their time and stuff,” he said. “So, you know, we’re gonna try to give as much coverage as we can. That’s how it works.”

The department will respond to emergencies, not transport people to the hospital, as its two EMS vehicles are not ambulances. A fire engine and chase vehicle, an SUV, are both BLS vehicles. Luzier said the chase vehicle will carry and certify for ALS use.

However, the certification will be able to free up ambulances in the county. For example, an EMT crew could respond and join up with a Masontown medic, leaving a medic in place with their service in another part of the county. 

Preston County is a big place and needs all the coverage it can get, Luzier said. He is working on the required mutual aid agreements with ambulance services in the county to make it happen.

If things go well, Luzier said he would love to expand the program. It will largely depend on how much support the county can provide and the fire levy passing again. It would be great, one day, to have a paid paramedic sitting in the station waiting to respond, he told commissioners. 

“We’re really dependent on this levy to pass,” Luzier said. “I hate to say that it might cancel it, but it’s gonna put a hurtin’ on us.”

EMS services around the country are struggling to stay up. In Monongalia County, Star City VFD announced it was ceasing operations of its ambulance service due to funding issues.

Commissioners asked Luzier to sit with the county’s EMS advisory board and explain what Masontown plans to do. 

“It all plays into this overall coverage, which what you’re doing adds to it,” Commissioner Dave Price said. “I don’t think we can move forward without having that conversation.”

Commissioner Don Smith asked if CARES money could be used to fund this. County Administrator Kathy Mace said it could.

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