South River council aims to remove ‘rescue squad’ from borough code

COURTESY OF MICHAEL AYERS

SOUTH RIVER–Approaching its second year of ongoing litigation, the Borough of South River filed a lawsuit against the South River Rescue Squad Inc. (SRRS) and South River Emergency Medical Services Inc. (SREMS) for alleged negligence while on duty.

In spite of the ongoing lawsuit, the Borough Council introduced an ordinance to delete “rescue squad” from the borough code.

The SRRS is a local corporation that handles emergency medical services in South River from midnight to 6 a.m. and consists of volunteer members. Its principal place of business is at 6 Thomas St., according to a court document filed by the borough.

SREMS is a local corporation that handles emergency medical services in the borough from 6 a.m. to midnight and consists of paid employees, according to a court document filed by the borough.

SREMS Executive Director Michael Ayers said the lawsuit is still ongoing and currently, there has not been a trial date set.

The council introduced and approved an ordinance amending the borough code so that Article XII entitled “Rescue Squad,” as well as, Article XIV titled “Rescue Squad Cadet Program,” can be deleted from the borough code during the Jan. 13 council meeting.

The second and final reading is scheduled for Jan. 27.

Borough Administrator Art Londensky said the borough has removed the section of the code as the rescue squad, a borough department, is no longer associated with the borough; the South River Rescue Squad Inc. is an independent non-profit corporation.

SRRS President Andy Cogswell said, “A little under 20 years ago, the borough formed a new department, the Department of Rescue, as part of the public safety department. The SRRS members became volunteer employees of the borough and the borough became responsible for certain things, such as providing maintenance on our building and for purchasing new ambulances.

“Our counter complaints in court have asserted that the borough has violated [its] own ordinances by failing to maintain the rescue squad building and for not providing other items and services required by their ordinances.”

In August 2019, the council awarded a one-year contract for providing basic life support emergency medical service response and transportation system for the borough to Robert Wood Johnson Health Network, Inc. (RWJ).

When asked if the borough plans to renew its one-year contract with RWJ, Londensky answered that the borough is currently evaluating all of its options for providing EMS services to borough residents. No decision has been made concerning the same.

“Now they are seeking to remove the rescue squad from the borough code so that the borough will no longer have anything in place to provide EMS except for their contract with RWJ,” Cogswell explained. “Furthermore, in the borough’s original complaint, they sought to take over the rescue squad, but with the elimination of the Department of Rescue, they are negating their reason for the original complaint. No Department of Rescue, no need for them to run the rescue squad.”

Ayers said, “As previously stated we will continually and rigorously defend our employees of South River EMS, Inc. and the volunteer men and women of SRRS, Inc. in regards to all allegations made by the Borough of South River. This is a real travesty for the residents of South River who have utilized our EMS and specialized rescue services for the last 83 years.”

“The fact that the borough has never sat down or made an attempt to resolve with the new rescue squad leadership in 2018 prior to the ligation to resolve or discuss any of their concerns just amazes me,” Ayers said. “I believe both the rescue squad and SREMS, in the end, will be fully vindicated or all allegations. We are looking forward to our day in court if this can not be resolved with a settlement.”

Members of the rescue squad and SREMS deny all of the allegations in the lawsuit.

Attorney Fredrick Rubenstein, who is one of the attorneys representing the borough, could not be reached by press time.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.