Ambulance service, including the contract the service has with Van Buren County and its cities, became a hot topic in Van Buren County after an incident at Friday night’s Clinton Homecoming game.

In the incident a student-athlete was overcome by an apparent asthma attack. In multiple videos shared across social media, an EMT is shown responding, and calls are heard from the stands and teammates for the EMT to act, including move, faster as he walked the length of the field to attend to the young man, alread being attended to by various people on hand, including a physician.

The student was taken off the field on a gurney and ambulance-transported to a hospital. He was released early the next morning and is reportedly none-the-worse for the experience.

The speed and quality of ambulance attendant’s response have caused a number of observers to question the quality of the service. The speed, or lack of speed, by the attendant walking the field led to a great deal of concern by observers. The attendant is seen walking at a measured pace and at one point is confronted by an obviously frustrated teammate of the stricken young man due to the attendant not moving any faster.

In an interview with a broadcast news outlet over the weekend, Southern Paramedic Service CEO Gary Padget stated the attendant’s response seen on the videos is within protocol.

Emergency responders are often trained not to run, both to avoid injury and so as not to be out-of-breath when they reach a site and able to act.

Padget, in the same interview, said the attendant was on foot because ambulances were not allowed on the field.

Clinton School Superintendent Andrew Vining said this was not the case, nor had it ever been the case. He pointed out that one of the pre-game rituals for Head Coach and school Athletic Director Chris Dufrene makes it a point to assure all gates to the field are open before each game, in order to assure emergency service, including ambulance, access.

(Multiple requests were made to Southern Paramedic Services office for an interview with, or statement by, Padget, but no response has been made as this issue readied for press.)

It was the nature of the attendant’s response once he was with the young man which has brought the most scrutiny to the event.

“It was a dereliction of duty as far as I’m concerned,” Clinton Fire Chief and School Board member D.L. Webb said.

Webb said he was in the bleachers when he saw the young man go down shortly after coming to the sidelines off the playing field. He went, Webb said, to help, joining local Doctor Keith Coward, who was on the sidelines with the team for the game. The young man’s mother, a registered nurse, was also by his side. As coaches responded, with one running to notify the ambulance crew that help was needed, Webb helped lay the young man down and got his jersey and pads off, he said.

When the attendant did arrive he insisted on assessing the young man’s condition, rather than acting on the doctor’s call for what needed to be done, this despite the athlete’s struggle to breath.

“He wanted to do his own thing,” Webb said.

Webb explained that in emergency response there is a pecking order and for the attendant to insist on assessment rather than immediately acting on the doctor’s call was delayed response in a critical situation and hence a dereliction. He added that the idea that an ambulance could not travel on the running track surrounding the field or on, even, the field itself was not in keeping with sound policy for emergency response, as a timely response is more important than maintaining a running track, regardless of any understood rules.

Clinton Fire Department Deputy Chief Mike Curtis said he was the attendant put out a cigarette just before entering the playing field area through the gate. Smoking is, by state law, illegal on school grounds.

Justice of the Peace Dale James said the response Friday night was “unacceptable” and wanted to hear the response from Southern Paramedic Services. James is a member of the multi-disciplinary Ambulance Oversight Board which had recently begun discussions with Southern Paramedic due to its five-year contract term ending in November.

The service, James explained, has a contract with the Van Buren County and its cities: Clinton, Shirley, Damascus and Fairfield Bay. This is the contract’s first renewal, he said.

The contract came into being after a death in the county in 2012, James explained. A man had been in a relatively minor altercation which caused a head injury. Transport to Little Rock was needed for treatment but was not available, as the ambulance company did not have the ambulances to spare to take the man to Little Rock, and the weather was such a helicopter could not be used. The man died in the hospital.

Due to this a contract was let with Souther Paramedic Services which would allow it to position additional ambulances in the county to prevent such incidents in the future, while at the same time giving it exclusive rights. The contract was signed by the County Judge Roger Hooper, as well as the mayors of Clinton, Shirley, Damascus and Fairfield Bay.

After Friday night he expected the contract to be open to other bidders, James said.

“[Friday night] Probably cost Southern an easy way back into the city,” he said.

The Ambulance Oversight Board has members from each city, the county, as well as from the hospital and the county rescue squad.

The board’s next meeting is this Monday night, Oct. 16, at the Van Buren County Annex at 6 p.m. A representative of Southern Paramedic Services is expected to attend and will be presented with, in the course of the meeting, 17 breeches of its contract filed by former Southern Paramedic Services employes, James said.

The asserted breaches include charges of poor equipment maintenance and personnel management, including certifications.

For consideration by the board is if it should renew with Southern Paramedic Services, or open the contract up to bid.

“It is a proven fact you have to have one service,” Van Buren County Judge Roger Hooper said. A situation which could lead to contract termination and allowing cities and the counties entering into separate arrangements with various ambulance companies would slow response times.

Hooper said Southern Paramedic Services was making, on the average, six to seven calls a day in the most recent survey, through August.