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High call volume stretches EMS service

High call volume stretches EMS service

June 23rd, 2018 by Jeff Haldiman in Local News

A high volume of calls Friday morning forced the Cole County Ambulance Service to have all seven of its ambulances in service.

When that happens, ambulances are going to wherever they are needed, which means they don't always serve areas they usually would.

But one Cole County fire chief said there was more to the story of what happened Friday.

Jack Brade, Regional West Fire Protection District chief, said the ambulance normally housed at the district's former station in Apache Flats was not manned because no personnel were available.

Cole County Presiding Commissioner Sam Bushman said Friday's situation arose around 10 a.m. He said the crew that normally would be in Apache Flats had been moved to the Cole County Fire Protection District Station on County Park Road.

"We had all seven ambulances manned like we normally would have on a Friday morning," he said. "I noticed there was a call for an ambulance at the (Cole County) Courthouse around this time and usually the ambulance at the county jail would be dispatched and be there very shortly, but it was out on another call and an ambulance from the main base on Southridge had to respond."

An email from Ambulance Director Jerry Johnston to Bushman said the west side of the county was covered at that time.

"This has happened before," Brade said. "I don't check every single time, but I know this isn't the first time."

Brade has taken to social media the past several weeks to express his disagreement with how the service has been run over the last few months.

"I helped work to get the county the ambulance service when they took it over in 2008, and I just don't like to see what's going on now," he said.

Brade is referring to firings of and resignations of some longtime ambulance staff earlier this year. It came on the heels of several reports from Johnston to the County Commission saying the service was having a hard time finding staff to fill positions, in particular paramedics.

However, Bushman noted they have hired three paramedics over the last couple of weeks and all other positions on the service are filled.

After meeting with staff earlier this month, Johnston recommended to the County Commission that the service remain on 12-hour shifts through September.

Johnston said some people would continue working back-to-back, 12-hour shifts at the Brazito and Apache Flats stations, but the key was to give those personnel ample notice of when that will occur.

If by August they haven't seen improvement in working out personnel and schedules, Johnston said, he would consider a move back to 24-hour shifts.

The County Commission approved the Cole County Ambulance Service's move from 24-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts in August 2017. Johnston said one of the main reasons for the change was to avoid fatigued ambulance staff.

The service has a full-time staff of 54 people and 40 part-time staff. There have been 13 full-time paramedics working, with the budget allowing for up to 21.

"I don't think they're taking into consideration that EMTs and paramedics have lives," Brade said. "They have put in a lot of time to get to these positions and have to deal with a lot of stuff that many of us couldn't. If you can't fill shifts, then trucks sit idle and you increase the chances of not having someone there for an emergency."

Bushman said he is confident the service is starting to turn the corner with the hiring of the new paramedics and the arrival next month of new Deputy Director Matt Lindewirth, who has been serving as an emergency medical services chief in South Carolina.

"I think he will have some ideas about how to work to make sure we have adequate staff and that may be returning to the 24-hour shifts," Bushman said. "I know that some of the people who left us said that was the reason they left us because they were used to it and the pay that came with it. Matt has been running 24-hour trucks along with some 12-hour trucks. I really believe he'll help us find ways to improve."