The night John Fleder of Chevy Chase had chest pains and called 911, he wasn’t thinking of how the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad paid for its fleet of seven ambulances.
He just knew he needed the squad to transport him to the hospital, where he found out that he was having a massive heart attack.
“They were professional and calm and calming. They almost certainly saved my life,” Fleder said.“If it had taken much longer, I probably would have been dead.”
So for Fleder and council members Al Lang and John Bickerman, dipping into the town’s surplus of $8 million to fulfill the squad’s request for $230,000 to pay for a new ambulance is a no-brainer.
Others in the town and the council have disagreed.
At the end of a contentious discussion on the subject Wednesday night, the council came to what the mayor, Patricia Burda, called a compromise by agreeing 4-1, with Bickerman opposed, to give the Bethesda Chevy-Chase Rescue Squad $60,000. The rescue squad was told they could come back in January for more money.
Brooke Davies, president of the squad, which is headquartered on Old Georgetown Road at Battery Lane, called the donation generous, but said not getting the full $230,000 would throw a wrench in her organization’s plans to update its fleet of seven ambulances.
The 73-year-old rescue service recently lost one of its major funding sources, Healthcare Initiative Foundation. Two new ambulances, each costing upward of $230,000, are high on the squad’s list of needs. The rescue service has begun asking for donations from local municipalities it serves.
Besides Bethesda and Chevy Chase, it also answers calls in Glen Echo, Cabin John, North Chevy Chase and parts of northwest Washington, D.C.
The squad, which has about 180 volunteers, went on 9,500 calls last year.
Davis first asked the Chevy Chase Town Council in July to consider funding two new ambulances for a total of about $500,000. Of the six ambulances the squad now has operating, it is currently down one, two are old and have out-of-date equipment and technology; they need to be replaced, Davies said.
While Montgomery County provides some support — training and radios, for example — everything else is paid for through donations.
“There is no other nonprofit that provides $80,000 worth of services to the town and doesn’t get money for it,” Davies said.
Burda, said that although the volunteers were “an extraordinary group of individuals,” a financial request of this size was unheard of and the town had no process to deal with it.
“It was a compromise position at this point,” she said of the $60,000 the council approved.
Public safety is not something the town should compromise on, Bickerman said.
“It’s not often that members of the town council deal with issues of life and death,” Bickerman said. “The rescue squad is in desperate need and we have the resources to pay for it. We should have paid for it.”
Fleder suffered no major damage from his heart attack thanks to speedy treatment. He agreed that the ambulances were a core function of the government and one the town could easily afford since it has such a large surplus.
“How do you quantify a life?” Fleder asked. “How does the town council live with itself if the rescue squad can’t do their job because they don’t have a vehicle and somebody dies?”