By HEATHER TOMLINSON, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
Billy Duncan’s recent promotion as Somerset-Pulaski County EMS Chief brings the count of newly-minted department heads in the city to three.
Somerset City Council, happy with Duncan’s leadership during several months of uncertainty as the city and Pulaski County government worked through contract issues, unanimously voted Monday to promote Duncan to the chief’s position.
Duncan had served as assistant chief under former chief Jim Latham.
“He did a great job through the transitions and with the county over the EMS agreement,” said Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler.
The newest agreement occurred as a result of a back-and-forth between the city and county that began in January when city officials said EMS had finished fiscal year 2012 in the red. Citing guidelines as per a 1995 interlocal agreement, the city asked that the county cover $982,907 of the shortfall.
The two entities worked to hash out their differences over the next several months until both governments came to a new agreement that would send more county money toward the EMS fund, and ensure the EMS service stayed available to all Pulaski County citizens.
Duncan has said around 80 percent of EMS runs are beyond Somerset limits. He said EMS averages about 12,000 calls a year, and it takes more than 100 full-time and part-time paramedics and EMTs, along with office staff members, to cover those calls.
Throughout the uncertainty, Duncan continued to assure concerned citizens that EMS service would be available to everyone, no matter what.
“The community doesn’t need to worry,” Duncan told the Commonwealth Journal in March. “We’ve got a great ambulance service with a great staff who’s going to provide this service regardless.”
Girdler said council members “felt very confident” in Duncan’s leadership abilities, which led to the unanimous vote Monday after a lengthy executive session for personnel discussions.
Councilors Jim Rutherford and Jerry Burnett were not in attendance at Monday’s city council meeting.
There has been a flurry of promotions and restructuring in the city over the past several weeks. During Monday’s meeting, the council in a 9-1 vote approved hiring Stephen Tyler Jasper, Jr. as the Somerset Fire Department’s newest chief.
Although there have been some rumblings over the choice, considering Jasper is not a firefighter, he said on Friday that he was looking forward to working with the fire department, which currently has 24 full-time and 14 part-time employees on staff.
“I’m excited but I do understand it’s going to be a big challenge,” said Jasper, “like taking over any department would be.”
Councilor John Ricky Minton was the lone “nay” vote, who noted he would’ve liked to see a firefighter be promoted to chief. Councilor Jimmy Eastham had similar concerns, although he voted to approve Jasper as new SFD chief.
Jasper said he’s met with the firefighters, and he said he’s already “ordered his books” to start studying up on the process to become certified as a firefighter.
“I don’t expect the guys who work for me to do the job that I’m not qualified to do,” said Jasper.
Jasper said the department is currently running with two trucks while two others are out for repairs. He said they’re expecting those trucks — complete with newly-fitted pump equipment and more — to be back by September.
“That’ll definitely increase our capability,” said Jasper.
Jasper also said they’re looking into other staffing options, such as including some volunteers in the department. He hopes to be able to hire two additional full-time firefighters soon, and he said two firefighters have been promoted in the ranks.
“I’ve just got to work out some of the details,” said Jasper, who has an extensive military history and who has worked with Somerset-Pulaski County EMS. Jasper also has management experience — something Girdler had stated the city was looking for when they hired him.
“The guys that I’m in charge of, they are the experts,” said Jasper. “They are the ones who have the knowledge and experience to work on the scene.
“That’s not what they need me for right now,” added Jasper.
Jasper and Duncan join Somerset Police Chief Doug Nelson as the city’s newest department leaders.
Councilors in late June voted 9-1 — with Councilors Pat Bourne and Jerry Girdler absent — in favor of Nelson’s promotion from acting chief to chief.
Councilor Jim Rutherford voted against Nelson’s appointment as police chief.
Nelson had served as SPD’s acting chief since 2007.