Big Four seal the deal with ambulances

The papers are signed, and the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company is one step closer to providing even more safety throughout the community. Last Thursday, officials from the “Big Four” — Bethany Beach, South Bethany, Fenwick Island and the Sea Colony Recreation Association — met with committee members for the BBVFC ambulance service project, to formally establish their support and encouragement of bringing ambulance service to the Bethany Beach company.

Coastal Point • Ruslana Lambert: Former Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Co. President Michael Wilgus, left, and Bob Minutoli, of the fire company, shake hands over the agreement that gets the ball rolling for the company’s ambulance service to begin.Coastal Point • Ruslana Lambert
Former Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Co. President Michael Wilgus, left, and Bob Minutoli, of the fire company, shake hands over the agreement that gets the ball rolling for the company’s ambulance service to begin.

In April of 2007, the Millville Volunteer Fire Company announced that they would be terminating their ambulance service within the Bethany Beach fire district that encompasses all four of those residential areas, due to obligations to expanding populations to the west.

After failed efforts to garner a solution from state fire officials or through the legislature, the BBVFC sought commitments from the four communities to allow Bethany Beach’s fire department to provide ambulance service to the area starting in January 2009. There are roughly 2,200 homeowners throughout the Bethany fire district, underscoring the importance of continuing emergency medical services there.

“It’s been a long road to get where we are today,” said South Bethany Mayor Gary Jayne, one of the signers of the project agreement on May 8.

“The document that we’re signing today will set a precedent in the state of Delaware,” Fenwick Island Mayor Audrey Serio added.

Mike Wilgus, past resident of the BBVFC and head of the Ambulance Service Committee, addressed the crowd at the ceremonial signing inside the fire hall.

“As I listened to the comments of local leadership,” he said, “so many memories were stirred from meetings, discussions and phone calls, which were too numerous to mention, just trying to get each member and the leaders from each entity on the same pages. I am thankful it has developed the way that it has, and I think we all are.”

Wilgus thanked state Sen. George Bunting and Rep. Gerald Hocker for their support.

“They stepped up to the plate quickly,” he said, “as they do in any situation.”

He also expressed his gratitude to other state fire services for their involvement with the program.

Above all, he extended thanks to the members of the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company.

“The bottom line was that, if the Bethany Beach Fire Company had not agreed to get involved with this endeavor and be part of this solution, we wouldn’t be having this ceremony today,” Wilgus said.

He credited the BBVFC’s Bob Minutoli and other members of the committee selected to manage the process for their efforts and driving support behind the ambulance project in Bethany Beach.

Minutoli was ecstatic with the prompt action that the members of the “Big Four” took in getting the project rolling.

“I personally think it’s unprecedented,” he said. “I don’t know of a circumstance where you have three towns, a home owners’ association and a volunteer fire company come together and accomplish something like this. It stems from the fact that it was needed.”

In his past four years of commitment to the fire department and community, Minutoli has been a compelling force behind the program.

“It’s all pretty mechanical,” he stated, “and it’s obvious that we live in a very close-knit community. A lot of people care about this project, and they care about the area and keeping its residents and vacationers safe.”

Orders were placed this week for two ambulances, and they are expected to be completed and delivered to the BBVFC by the end of October, well ahead of the January 2009 cessation of coverage by the MVFC.

“Once we have the ambulances here at the station,” said Wilgus, “we will complete our outfitting. Employment will begin very soon. We will hire an administrator to help us with the employment process. The applications are out, and we’re hoping to have a full staff on board during the fourth quarter.

“We ought to run a month and a half with Millville, and get all of our ducks in a row, before Bethany will operate the full ambulance service in this district,” he said.

The May 8 signing formally approved a 10-year commitment by the company to servicing the “Big Four,” a contract that, on the communities’ side, would cost its residents roughly $23 per property for the partial year starting from when the documents were signed in May, until March 30, 2009.

“It’s basically covering the start-up costs,” said Minutoli.

The following year, running from April 1, 2009, until the end of March 2010, will call for roughly $44 each from home owners within the district. The towns and Sea Colony are expected to assess the costs to home owners along with existing annual taxes and other assessments.

“The matter is essential to the area,” said Wilgus. “When people call 911, they want timely service. This is something that affects everyone, and I’m glad we’re on are way to making this a reality.”