Ever present are the reminders of the organization's vital duties, and yet, financial woes may prove to be the undoing of the storied nonprofit.
In recent months, things have gone downhill for the organization, and even after terminating all paid positions except one, months later, a dozen employees still haven't been compensated for hours worked.
How it started
One of those terminated who still hasn't been paid is
Martinez was behind the increase in routine transports that ultimately provided the Rescue Squad with a large boost in revenue. He said the organization was running about 75 transports per month when he first began volunteering, but after he reached out to
For each transport billed to insurance or Medicaid, the Rescue Squad was supposed to receive hundreds of dollars, but Martinez was vexed to see the financial situation not improving.
"I started asking why are we having money woes if I've tripled the business, and I could never get a straight answer," he said. "I started battling the system from there on because my guys were wanting better pay and benefits and the trucks were falling apart."
Because the Rescue Squad is broken into two divisions with transportation services being the side that generates revenue, this was alarming.
Martinez thinks a large part of the problem is that the former finance director,
"She just wasn't getting the job done," Martinez said, adding that he did not think she did anything illegal or unethical.
Martinez said part of the problem was a lack of communication.
"I did my job and she'd do her job," he said. "And when I asked about monies and funding, she'd say, 'don't worry about it. Everything's good.'"
Current Rescue Squad Board Chairman
"Honestly, there was no backup to her," he said. "I chock this up to an oversight mostly."
From bad to worse
While things seemed off-balance for a while leading up to the recent shake-up, the final straw was when 129 transports were not properly reported, which led to a major loss in expected revenue. When this happened, employees who worked in transport services became uneasy.
"About the time everybody started asking questions, all this turmoil started and now here we are," he said.
Things came to a head at the Rescue Squad board meeting on
According to the minutes, at the end of the meeting, Simmet "got up from seat, walked toward door stating, 'I quit' as she walked away."
But that wasn't the end of Simmet's involvement in things. Martinez said Simmet and newly minted board Chairman
"If it wasn't for those two, that wouldn't have happened the way it happened," Martinez said.
Perhaps most notably, those two made the decision on their own to terminate certain employees, including Martinez and
"Those two people fired us, and then they bounced," Martinez said.
"I want the community to know this wasn't all the administration or employees' fault," he added. "It was the hands of two people that caused this problem and put the community where it is now."
Neither Rogers nor Simmet could be reached for comment.
Sorrells joined the Rescue Squad in 1975 and has served on the board three different times. He said when he retired as a paramedic at 77, he was the oldest in the country.
"She ran the squad down quite a bit," he said of Simmet, who he and others believe had ambitions of becoming the board chairman.
Sorrells also confirmed that the rest of the board was not privy to the decision made by Simmet and Clark.
"I told Juan they didn't have the authority to eliminate him," he said. "But they made the decision their own self."
By the beginning of 2019, the entire structure of the organization was shuffled around, there was one paid employee, little income and bills to pay.
Messer said it will take about
Sorrells -- who is officially a lifetime board member -- was so baffled by the way everything was handled that he was ready to call it quits.
"I had my resignation letter filled out," he said, adding that Messer talked him out of it.
As of now, efforts to get to the bottom of exactly what has happened have stalled. While the board initially requested
"The detectives were doing interviews," Martinez said. "They told me they'd be there to talk to me next, and I never heard about them again."
"I feel if anything was going to save this place, it'll be a clean investigation," Martinez said.
While multiple fundraising options have been discussed, at last week's board meeting, it was decided that the Rescue Squad will work with
At the meeting, the new board members made clear their intentions to be transparent, and Messer had invited the public to the board meetings held the second Tuesday of each month.
At Tuesday's meeting, however, accountant
Despite multiple attempts in the days after the meeting, Sylvester refused to comment on board financial issues or the reason he was so adamant about maintain secrecy.
Sylvester was convinced to return to the table only after The Mountaineer reporter agreed to leave.
"He doesn't speak for the board," Messer said the day after the meeting, adding that Sylvester was concerned about protecting the "proprietary" nature of Smith's service.
Ultimately, the board voted to send out fundraising letters, to help the organization get back on its feet.
Sorrells said this isn't the first time the Rescue Squad has faced turmoil. Back in the 1980s when the organization needed
But not all that money came out on the other end. The woman controlling the finances,
"There were no plans to get that money back," Sorrells said. "They rented their house, they rented their car, they rented their furniture, so there wasn't anything we could get."
Sorrells said the public embarrassment that followed Minnick's conviction hurt the Rescue Squad's fundraising going forward, and he believes the ripples are still felt. In fact, a lack of revenue is one of the things that led the group to expanding transport services.
Ultimately, whether transport services returns to Rescue Squad, Sorrells said he thinks the county will come around and support the organization simply because of how important its services are.
"I think it's a great thing, and it can continue to be a great thing for the county," Sorrells said. "If people will forget about that girl in the 80s who stole and show us the support we once had, we're going to be OK. We can do right."
In addition to figuring out a plan to refill the Rescue Squad's coffers, the group is trying to take steps to ensure nothing like this can happen again.
Prior to Tuesday's meeting, Messer said the first priority is to get Martinez and other former employees the money they're owed.
The other major item discussed at Tuesday's board meeting was the appointment of a new chief to take over for interim chief
Prior to the meeting, Messer was pretty sure they'd have a new chief by the end of the evening, but such wasn't the case.
Instead, after hours of deliberation, the board decided to meet again Sunday with each member bringing a list of three qualities needed in a chief. The hiring process will be opened up to all.
Messer said the board agreed it is important to get the right chief, not just the person with the longest period of service and the most certifications as has been the case in the past.
"I want to make sure we have the best person we can in that spot," he added. "It's important because they're the face of the rescue squad."
The very existence of the Rescue Squad may well be the difference between life and death for someone in the future, he said. While the county or another group could take over transport services, the boost the organization gives to Haywood County EMS would be tough to make up for, especially because it's the Rescue Squad that provides a standby ambulance when EMS is bogged down by a large volume of calls.
"At the end of the day, the community suffers because the non-emergeny ambulance isn't there anymore, so it's falling on the 911 service," Martinez said. "You might call 911 and they might say you have to hold a minute."
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