Commissioners plan to fix patchy emergency medical service across the county

Jon A. Lord, fire chief for the Rocky Ridge Fire District, was among the first responders who spoke with Jefferson County commissioners on Tuesday about providing emergency medical services throughout the county. (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

The Jefferson County Commission was told at its committee meeting Tuesday that it must declare a public health and safety emergency regarding emergency medical services in the county.

Todd Sheridan is a senior partner at Fitch and Associates, the firm hired to study ambulance response time issues in Jefferson County. His report today presented a picture in which some parts of the metro area may have multiple ambulance services responding to a call while others may have none.

And some of those who get answers may have to wait up to 4.5 hours.

At least 15 first responders surrounded the room where the commissioners met. They heard Sheridan give four options for the commission. They ranged from purchasing ambulance cover from external EMS agencies to centralizing purchasing and creating a single-source system. “The zero option,” maintaining the status quo, “is no longer an option,” he said.

Commissioner Joe Knight, chairman of the commission’s finance committee, asked how much it would cost to bring a unified emergency medical service online. Sheridan said $10 million, and at least a few of the first responders on the scene said that figure was low.

Jon A. Lord is the fire chief for the Rocky Ridge Fire District. He described instances in which his department responded to calls in western Jefferson County, including Brighton, Lipscomb, Fairfield, McCalla, Johns, Adger, Birmingport, Concord and along the Warrior River.

“These are just a few we’ve gone to over the past two years to help transport a patient when an ambulance isn’t available,” said Lord, who is president of the Jefferson County Fire Department Association. and chairman of Jefferson County 911. “We need everyone to be involved and everyone to help. “It will have to be done, and the commission is the one that can direct it. Without them, we will go nowhere. This is the bottom line.

Josh Bryant is a captain in the Fultondale Fire Department and a member of Fultondale City Council. He said the biggest challenge to providing countywide emergency medical services is funding and staffing.

“Even if we had staff, we don’t have the funds to pay them,” Bryant said. “But even with additional funds, we are struggling to find staff. There are a lot of things we wish we could do — across cities, across counties — to be able to improve responses.

Echoing Lord, the Fultondale captain said covering areas outside of their own district leaves their base areas exposed.

“There’s no one picking up the slack to cover the rest of the areas,” Bryant said. “I really think that’s where the commission can really take the lead and say, ‘We’re going to do whatever it takes to cover those uncovered areas,’ even if that means supplementing city districts that are already supplying that – or even the private agencies providing it – so they can be supplemented to help solve this problem of funding and personnel.

A related issue is getting more people to decide to be paramedics. “It’s a long-term problem that we can only solve with schooling and better pay,” Bryant said.

Commission Chairman Jimmie Stephens appointed Commissioner Steve Ammons to chair a committee to study the issue.

Jefferson County Commissioner Steve Ammons (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Ammons said his goal is regional cooperation, adding that the Jefferson County Association of Mayors has already considered establishing a regional 911 system. He added that metropolitan area fire chiefs will review the plan and provide input. their opinions.

“What does this mean for their individual jurisdictions? What does this mean for us overall? the commissioner asked, saying they’ll have to figure out which parts of the report and which of those options to focus on first.

“We say it every time. We are fractured. We are compartmentalised,” he said. “We have 35 municipalities and 14 PSCAPs (Public Safety Communication Answering Points).

“We can find ways to work together,” Ammons said. “These are just symptoms of a bigger problem, and we’re going to break them down and make sure we can cure some of them. The issues they raised in today’s Fitch report (will) lead to another problem and another problem. We’re just going to have to take some coordinated action to make sure we take care of those. »

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