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BY JEFF BRANSCOME
Spotsylvania County ambulances will soon be outfitted with electronic locking systems to deter thefts of narcotics--some of which have been stolen this year.
Fire Chief Chris Eudailey said he hopes the county's approximately 100 emergency responders with advanced life-support training--paid and volunteer--will be issued electronic keys to access the drugs by Dec. 1.
The keys will let Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Management officials know who opens the drug lockboxes in the county's 25 ambulances and when.
Spotsylvania hired Northern Virginia-based Federal Security Systems Inc. to install the technology, which will cost the county about $41,000.
Eudailey updated the Fire and EMS Commission on the status of the lock system--which will also be in some fire trucks--at a recent meeting.
"What this significant investment from the county has done is offers us 100 percent accountability," said Eric Lasky, who is on the county's Fire and EMS Commission and is a member of Chancellor Volunteer Fire and Rescue.
Eudailey noted that the locking system won't necessarily eliminate thefts, but it will pinpoint who has been in the lockboxes.
Stafford County doesn't have an electronic locking system in its ambulances, but, as in Spotsylvania, only emergency responders with advanced life-support training have access to narcotics, a fire and rescue spokesman said.
Morphine, a narcotic pain reliever, and Versed--a brand name for midazolam that is used to produce drowsiness and relieve anxiety--have been reported stolen from Spotsylvania ambulances five times this year.
The fire and rescue department removed morphine, Versed and Valium from ambulances after the first thefts in April and May, and issued the drugs to select supervisors. The department returned the drugs to ambulances after changing the locks to the medication cabinets.
But some of the drugs were again reported stolen in July, and all narcotics have been under the control of six or seven supervisors since then.
Nobody has been charged, but the Sheriff's Office is continuing to investigate the thefts, Sheriff's Capt. Mike Harvey said.
The fire and rescue officials with access to the drugs provide them to ambulances as needed, which can be difficult in a county with 400 square miles, Eudailey said.
"They haven't been getting a lot of sleep," he said.
Fire and EMS Commission member LeRon Lewis, who is a chief with the Spotsylvania Volunteer Rescue Squad, is one of the supervisors who delivers the drugs to ambulances.
He called it a "daunting task" and said he's pleased the county is moving forward with the new system.
"If I come in for a shift at 7 a.m. and the narcs are missing, it's going to make it very easy to figure out who accessed that cabinet," Lewis said of the new technology.
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402