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Harlan Co. woman gives ambulances to two squads here


Letcher Fire and Rescue’s ambulance fleet grew to three times its size over the weekend, thanks to a gift from a Harlan County businesswoman who was born in Letcher County.

Stephanie Vanover, a Hemphill native who owns Cumberland Valley Funeral Home in Cumberland, closed her Lifecare Ambulance Service in March. After the business sat idle for five months, Vanover made a decision to donate the entire fleet, all of its equipment, supplies, and spare parts to Letcher.

Vanover said Letcher Ambulance Executive Director Shawn Gilley had contacted her about buying some of the ambulances, but said the department was struggling with money, and would have to find a way to raise it. She said she asked around, found out about the shake up in the ambulance service’s leadership a year ago, and made her decision.

“I’m sitting here with a fleet of ambulances I’m not using, and I’m not worried about the money. I don’t need it,” Vanover said.

Gilley said the service is “overwhelmed by her generosity.” Letcher had four ambulances, only three of which were running. It picked up 12 from Vanover, gave two that did not have engines and transmissions to the towing company in partial payment and gave two more parts vehicles to Neon Volunteer Fire Department. It now has eight more ambulances, including two parts vehicles, sitting at its station alongside the four it already had.

Gilley said the gift also included several cots, including two new bariatric cots (cots built for oversize patients), several heart monitors, medical supplies, and spare parts for the ambulances.

He said he’s not sure what the service will do with so many ambulances, and it still has to give them a thorough check to make sure they’re all roadworthy. It’s a gift worth at least $200,000 no matter how it’s looked at, Gilley said.

“We want to thank her,” he said. “We really appreciate it.”

Vanover said her father Daryl Vanover bought the ambulance service from Johnson Funeral Home in 1990, and made it the first conforming ambulance service in Harlan County. They ran the service as basic life support, but saw advanced life support (ALS) start in Letcher County, where they both grew up, and realized how many lives could be saved when it was 32 miles from the head of Lynch to the nearest emergency room. He told her about the decision to change to ALS when there no paramedics in the county.

“I said, ‘Dad, that’s great, but you need paramedics,’” she recalled. “He said, ‘I just enrolled you in a paramedic class.’”

Vanover, who is both a funeral director and a paramedic, drove to Manchester in Clay County to take the class and did some of her ride time to get her paramedic license at Letcher when it had advanced life support the first time. It dropped its level of service to basic life support for about 15 years, but it has now gone back to ALS service again.

Vanover’s father died in 2013, leaving her to run the funeral home and the ambulance service, and she said she couldn’t do both on her own. She said she thinks her father would have wanted her to donate the equipment to help a struggling service, the way her father donated equipment, money and time to keep the Rescue Squad in Cumberland where politics fueled an attempt to move it to Harlan.

Stephanie Vanover said the gift to Letcher includes her own personal ambulance that she used to answer calls.

“I’m the only medic that rode in the back of it, and there were only two drivers that ever drove it,” she said.

Gilley said Letcher plans to acknowledge the gift by putting “In memory of Darrel Vanover” on the back of that ambulance.

“I think that’s only fitting,” he said.

Stephanie Vanover said that makes it worth the donation.

“When they said they were going to put my dad’s name on my personal truck, I just sat on my porch and cried,” Vanover said.

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