Some Sussex County organizations will have to start budgeting for the costs of having paramedics and county emergency operations services on site. County council voted 5-0 in support of a special event policy proposed by Sussex emergency operations staff at its June 25 meeting.
Until the policy was adopted, services were provided free of charge even if additional staff had to be paid overtime. Robert Stuart, director of Sussex Emergency Management Services, said the county provides coverage to as many as 150 events each year ranging in scope from small health fairs to large events such as World Championship Punkin Chunkin.
“When it is feasible, we provide coverage using staff previously scheduled to work,” said County Administrator Todd Lawson. “Otherwise, we are forced to pay staff overtime to work the events.”
Under the policy, large and multi-day events that charge admission would be candidates for the new fees.
Based on criteria in the policy, about half of all events could be charged to allow the county to recoup its costs, Stuart said. Even at that, Stuart said, only about $20,000 would be collected.
Councilman Vance Phillips, R-Laurel, said he was concerned that some larger events are organized by nonprofit organizations that give money back to the community.
“Nonprofit status is just one criteria, and not the first,” said Robbie Murray, EMS operations manager. “The first criteria we will use is if the event charges admission – that's the most important.”
Other criteria include the number of days the event takes place and the number of people expected to attend. Murray said if organizers are paying Delaware State Police, local police or the Delaware Department of Transportation to cover events, they should also pay for county services.
Murray said, except for a few mixed martial arts tournaments, Sussex paramedics coverage is not required so organizers could decide not to pay for services. But, Stuart said, organizers might incur liability issues. “Most events want us there,” he said.
Murray said the mixed martial arts tournaments were moved to Sussex County because there was no charge for paramedics.
Stuart said events that would not be charged would include those without admission fees such as fireworks, health fairs, Bridgeville's Apple Scrapple Festival and Seaford's Nanticoke Riverfest. Events that could be charged for services would include events such Punkin Chunkin, large concerts, Special Olympics Polar Bear Plunge, Rehoboth Beach Marathon and some other large sporting events.
Organizers of weekly Cape Region running events usually opt to use paramedics units already on duty with the realization they could be called to respond to an emergency.
“It's not our intent to start charging all community events,” Murray said.
The county will charge $60 an hour for paramedics, $30 per hour for dispatchers and $145 an hour if the county's mobile command unit is in service at the event's site.
Sussex EMS has a specially trained special events team that rides bicycles for easier access to event sites. Eric Houvinen coordinates special events scheduling for Sussex EMS.