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More EMS, less AFD – Firemen no longer dispatched on non-emergency calls

The entry of a new ambulance service into the local emergency response network has apparently created a change in the medical response protocol inside Atmore and its police jurisdiction.

The city’s two top public safety officials and its mayor have confirmed that city firetrucks will no longer be dispatched each time an ambulance is sent to the site of a medical incident, although city firefighters will remain subject to dispatch on medical calls, depending upon the circumstances surrounding each one.

“The new ambulance service is now rolling, and there’s now a rotation log,” Police Chief Chuck Brooks said during a recent joint interview with Fire Chief Ron Peebles. “If somebody asks for a particular ambulance service, our dispatchers will dispatch that ambulance service, but we don’t ask. If you’re in need of a medic, whoever’s next up, that’s who goes.”

As police chief, Brooks is responsible for maintaining the city’s emergency and non-emergency dispatch structure.

Mississippi-based ASAP EMS-Ambulance, which had been providing emergency and non-emergency medical transfers in Monroe and Clarke counties, was recently granted a city business license and began November 20 to rotate local calls with Atmore Ambulance Service.

Atmore Ambulance Service has been the sole medical response entity based within the city and its coverage area since Kelley Ambulance Service, which answered local medical calls from 2004-2009, went out of business.

Mayor Jim Staff said that assurances from both ambulance services, along with the rising cost and legal exposure created by non-emergency AFD callouts, were the catalysts behind pulling the plug on the duplicate dispatches, which had been ongoing for about a year.

“The reason was, about 70 percent of our (fire department) calls were medical,” Staff explained. “Our insurance was going up, up, up and so was our fuel cost. We were putting our liability out there where we don’t need to put it. Our guys do a good job, and they can handle the medical calls, but they’re not supposed to.

“I asked both ambulance services, and they both said they didn’t need the back-up on routine calls. So there’s just no need in us answering medical calls we don’t need to go to.”

Peebles said he and his agency’s personnel would take things in stride and be ready for whatever comes their way.

“We’ll handle things just like we always have,” the fire chief said. “We will work with both ambulance services. We’ll keep responding, as far as I know, whenever and wherever we’re needed. That’s what we’re here for.”

According to estimates supplied by Peebles, the fire department’s ladder truck gets only about 3-5 miles per gallon of diesel. Its smaller trucks get only about 4-6 mpg.

Brooks said the new protocol, which requires dispatchers to automatically send fire engines to the site of multi-vehicle auto accidents or auto accidents where extrication is necessary, or to assist ambulance crews with lifting patients who weigh more than 250 pounds, was designed with one thing in mind.

“Our goal is to provide public safety in the best possible way,” he said. “We may page the fire department out and find out later that they’re not needed. We will all work together to provide the community with the best public safety. Whether it’s ASAP, Atmore Ambulance or whoever, if there is a massive crash site along the highway, the ambulance service is probably going to be screaming for help, and (AFD) will be there.”

Staff pointed out that there is another situation that will prompt an automatic dispatch of fire personnel.

“They answer any call where there is a heart stoppage, and they usually stay with the patient all the way to the hospital,” he said. “They will still do that, because if there’s a two-person ambulance crew, one has to drive and that leaves just one person to be with the patient.”

Brooks added that the current emergency dispatch protocol would be adhered to, no matter how many public or private entities are involved.

“It doesn’t matter to me if we have three, four or five ambulance services open up in Atmore,” said Brooks. “We’ll continue to handle things this way until we see where there’s a better way.”

Staff said he feels that the new directive will enhance the overall local emergency response system.

“It will be better for the city and better for the people,” he said. “It should be a positive step.”