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Local News Article
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Police Open Investigation into Gilbertsville Ambulance Service
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer

            Douglass Township police have opened an investigation of the Gilbertsville Area Community Ambulance Service regarding financial issues. The department started its inquiry three weeks ago following the service's temporary suspension of service.

            "We know there are a few discrepancies," police Chief Barry Templin said following Monday's municipal Emergency Services Board meeting. "We don't know how big they are."

            Two months ago, ambulance officials asked the municipality for a $100,000 contribution, according to township Manager Pete Hiryak. He said township officials do not know how much money is missing.

            "We're not privy to that information," Hiryak said after the meeting, which lasted less than 50 minutes. "We are just as interested as anyone else in finding out what has been going on."

            John Doucette, the service's interim chief, said the police are pursuing the investigation. He told the ESB members that he met with a Douglass Township police detective to discuss the issue.

            Templin could not provide a timeline for the completion of his department's work. After the meeting, the police chief said that once ambulance officials provide all the pertinent financial information, he would request that the Montgomery County Detectives Unit take over the case in order for his officers to avoid any potential conflicts of interest.

            According to the police chief, local authorities started a file and assigned a case number to it a few days after being dispatched on July 16 to the ambulance facility, located at 91 Jackson Road. Service employees who claim to have discovered multiple firearms and ammunition stored in the building expressed concern for their safety, as well as concerns over internal financial matters.

             A search of the property turned up no firearms or ammunition. Authorities later determined that they had been removed before officers arrived, according to a news release from Templin.

            The following day, the ambulance board voted to fire Chief of Operations Garry Schmoltze Sr. during a special meeting. One member resigned before the meeting, leaving the remaining four to vote, according to Member Jessica Gisinger.

            She wrote in a July 30 email message that two others resigned after the vote, leaving her and President Mark Landes to inform Schmoltze – who had served as the chief since January 2009 – of their decision.

            On Monday night, Gisinger, Landes and Doucette – sitting at a side table in the township's meeting room next to the police chief – appeared before the ESB to express regret for the situation and a desire to make the service financially stable. Gisinger said the trio is determined to do whatever it can to make sure the municipality has proper ambulance coverage.

            Doucette, a Douglass Township resident with more than 30 years of experience in Emergency Medical Services and EMS education experience, described the emergence of certain undisclosed details related to the ambulance service as "a slap in the face," in agreement with an earlier statement by Hiryak. He said they initially gave him pause for becoming the service's interim chief.

            The organization is getting by financially "by the skin of its teeth," according to Doucette, who currently works as the chief of the Zerbe Township Police Department in Northumberland County. He said the service is able to meet its payroll and pay all its bills.

            Doucette asked the township to make a financial contribution to the service based on its tight operating budget. The interim chief of operations could not provide a specific amount because he said he did not fully understand its budget situation. He suggested that the board of supervisors create a dedicated emergency medical services tax.

            Hiryak suggested that the current ambulance board members invite a Douglass Township supervisor to join. The manager also proposed that they meet with Cynthia O'Donnell, the municipality's treasurer. He said O'Donnell could serve as a financial liaison to the supervisors.

            "None of this is going to work unless we get accurate information," Hiryak said. "We had been hearing a pretty rosy picture."

            Landes said he welcomed the idea of transparency. Ambulance officials recently invited a member of the supervisors from New Hanover, one of the other municipalities the service covers, to join the board. However, the members said they needed more time to review it, according to Doucette.

            Gisinger said the organization has taken out a loan against its building with the intent of carrying it through the winter. The service, which recently hired two medical responders, is still struggling to cover six open shifts, according to Doucette. He said the goal is to have the service fully staffed by the end of November.






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