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story.lead_photo.caption Cole County first responders and the Missouri Highway Patrol responded to the scene of a single-vehicle accident Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, on U.S. 54. The vehicle appeared to be westbound and ran through the median, coming to rest on the vehicle's passenger side on the inside shoulder of the eastbound lane. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

The Cole County Commission on Tuesday approved an agreement with the Cole County First Responders to continue providing emergency medical services in the county.

After the voter-approved county ambulance half-cent sales tax went into effect in 2009, $50,000 was set aside to assist with first responder training and equipment. That funding is split evenly between the Cole County First Responders and the Jefferson City Fire Department. Prior to the sales tax, first responders operated on a much lower budget, as funds were gained through fundraisers and equipment was purchased by the responders themselves.

The $25,000 the Cole County First Responders receive is the group's entire operating budget and is used to pay for insurance, workers compensation, liability, communication equipment, medical supplies, and equipment such as bags and AEDs. That equipment ranges in price from $500-$3,000.

First responders serve rural Cole County with about 30 volunteers. Their equipment helps them stabilize and care for the sick and injured before and after an ambulance arrives. Responders go on emergency calls in their personal vehicles. Their experience levels range from the level of "first responder," which is a basic 44-hour course, to EMT to paramedic. All members are required to attend monthly training to assure skills are up to date.

Assistant Chief Barry Gipe said the course exceeds the requirements of the emergency medical responder per U.S. Department of Transportation curriculum. Topics covered include legal and ethical responsibilities of an emergency medical responder, patient assessments, bleeding control, medical emergencies, trauma emergencies, and CPR and AED use.

Class size is limited. Gipe said anyone interested should check the Cole County First Responders' Facebook page to find out when the next courses will be held.

Also Tuesday, commissioners approved a request from Cole County EMS Chief Matt Lindewirth to add three paramedic positions to help cover vacation, sick leave and holiday time.

Lindewirth said nearly all agencies Cole County's size have at least that many paramedic positions. There would one per shift, and they would work a 24-hour shift.

The service currently has a full-time staff of 58. Lindewirth said these three new positions would be full time.

The starting salary for a paramedic is $47,500.

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