County EMS Steadfast, Ambulances Returning

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HARTSELLE, Ala. (WHNT) - An update to a story we first brought you Monday as Breaking News on WHNT News 19 at 6:30 P.M., ambulances repossessed in Morgan County.

It all began just after sunset when repo agents showed up unannounced to repossess three ambulances owned and operated by County EMS in Hartselle. Members of the county's drug task force were also called in but only to take possession of the drugs that are carried in the vehicles. WHNT News 19 was assured Monday night and we confirmed again Tuesday that at no time was Hartselle and surrounding areas left without adequate EMS coverage.

Although three of their five ambulances were taken, County EMS did not shut down and did not at any time stop answering calls. In fact, the company says they expect to have the three units taken from them Monday night back inservice in Hartselle very soon.

There was nothing paramedics could do Monday night but turn over the keys to the vehicles. It was an emotional scene at the company's offices on Highway 31 in Hartselle, and employees were left in a state of shock. The ambulances were all taken to a nearby parking lot where each vehicle was carefully inventoried. Because the vehicles do carry drugs, agents from the county's drug task force were called in to inventory those items.

But at no time was the area left without EMS protection. "We had 3 ambulances last night and we had some posted outside the city for additional assistance if needed," says Hartselle Fire Chief Steve Shelton, who responded Monday night as the ambulances were being taken to insure residents would still have adequate ambulance service available.

Working with County EMS staff, Chief Shelton says an ambulance was borrowed from Brindley Mountain that County EMS personnel staffed. Cross Roads Ambulance stationed a vehicle at I-65 and Highway 36, and both Decatur ambulance services offered to station one of their vehicles just outside of Hartselle city limits.

Tuesday morning, an additional ambulance was called in to help cover the area, plus the surrounding communities continued their support.

A spokesperson for County EMS tells us the repossession action stems from the sudden death last month of the company's owner, Terry Garwood, who had provided ambulance service to the area for many years. In the three weeks since Garwood's death, the finance company was not provided with a new contact for the service and had been unable to reach the new operator, Garwood's son, for lack of a current telephone number, in order to update contracts and finance agreements. At that point, according to the spokesperson, the finance company moved to secure it's collateral: the ambulances.

The ambulances were taken to a secure holding facility in Muscle Shoals where they remain. The spokesperson tells WHNT News 19 final arrangements for a commercial debt bond should be completed Wednesday morning, which will free the vehicles to be returned to service in Hartselle.

Meanwhile, dispatchers at the Morgan County 9-1-1 Communications Center will continue to carefully monitor EMS calls in and around the Hartselle and Falkville areas Tuesday evening and into Wednesday to help insure help is available when and where it's needed.

The dedicated crew at County EMS, answering calls throughout the day Tuesday, vow they will not let the people of Morgan County down.

-- Al Whitaker