Lake Norman & Mooresville

Sirens fall silent for North Mecklenburg Rescue Squad

Last call for the North Mecklenburg Rescue Squad

After 58 years of service to the Lake Norman Area, the sirens at the North Mecklenburg Rescue Squad in Huntersville went silent on June 30.
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After 58 years of service to the Lake Norman Area, the sirens at the North Mecklenburg Rescue Squad in Huntersville went silent on June 30.

After 58 years of service to the Lake Norman Area, the sirens at the North Mecklenburg Rescue Squad announced the final call on June 30.

For Alexis Perkel, 46, who has been a member of the squad for five years, it is going to be a big change.

Perkel, growing up around the corner, is accustomed to the sounds of the station.

“It will be sad to not hear the siren going off,” she said. Being her last day working in Huntersville, Perkel said, “I am going to miss the family atmosphere of being in the squad and serving the community in its time of need.”

To save the town money, both the rescue squad and the Huntersville Fire Department utilize a combination of paid, part-time professionals and volunteers to serve their district. Most of the paid, part-time staff work as full time firefighters or emergency medical technicians in other local departments.

Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla said the rescue squad was notified more than three years ago that, as Station 4 neared completion, the service would be consolidated into the Huntersville Fire Department; which requires firefighter training to become a member.

Aneralla said shortly after he became mayor in February 2016, the June 30 deadline was selected as the last day of service for the rescue squad.

During a visit on their final day, Aneralla thanked the rescue squad members for their service and said, “There are no better people than those who are willing to risk their lives to help others.”

As part of the consolidation, the paid positions at the rescue squad, which provided 2 EMTs- on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week- were eliminated to accommodate the positions being added for the new Fire Station 4.

John Stroup, chief of the North Mecklenburg Rescue Squad, said the elimination of the paid professionals ultimately meant the end of the squad.

Stroup and some of the 35 members of the rescue squad work with the Huntersville Fire Department, but those who don’t have the firefighter certification won’t be allowed to make the transition. When the doors close, they will have to look for other opportunities to serve.

Stroup said, “Turning down personnel that are trained to respond to emergency calls doesn’t make sense to me. Why can’t you have a few EMTs.”

Jim Dotoli, chief of the Huntersville Fire Department, said that Station 4, scheduled to open in January 2018, will add five paid staff positions. That will add to the 14 paid daily staff, with the rest of the 100 members being volunteers.

With approximately 3,000 calls per year, the fire department covers 62 square miles with about 56,000 residents. The new facility will also have a fire engine, ladder truck and Quick Response Unit for EMT purposes.

“Having four stations gives the residents closer firehouses. Local response units make a big difference in response times,” said Dotoli.

Dotoli said anyone is welcome to apply, once a year in February, but they must have both firefighter and EMT certification to join.

Jacob Moore, 20, is one of the EMTs who will be displaced. He doesn’t want to go through the time, along with the expense, required for firefighter training and has taken a full-time paramedic job in Forsyth County.

Moore said his most memorable time will be three days leading to the closing, reminiscing with the older veterans and saying good-bye. “It is sad that I am going to be missing out on running calls with pretty much my family away from my blood family,” he said.

Stroup said the squad answered more than 25,000 calls during the past 10 years and have answered approximately 1,500 calls this year. He believes the fire department will be able to handle the extra calls, but he is worried about what might happen when there is a big fire, tying up all the firefighters, and there is a medical call at the same time.

After taking four other calls, during their last two hours of service, at 11:34 p.m., Chief Stroup, along with five other squad members, responded to their last call; a fall with injury at a nearby assisted living center.

As first-responders, handing the patient over to MEDIC on their arrival, the North Mecklenburg Rescue Squad completed its final call.

“We’ve known this was coming for a while. ... We still don’t agree with it,” said Stroup.

Marty Price is a freelance writer:

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