By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Note: This article is the first in a two-part series on the announced merger of Atmore Ambulance Service and ASAP EMS-Ambulance and how the merger should improve response times in medical emergencies.
City of Atmore officials are still unclear on the details of the transaction, but are keeping their fingers crossed that a reported merger between the city’s two private ambulance services — Atmore Ambulance and ASAP EMS-Ambulances — will improve response time in medical emergencies, making the community safer.
“All they’re saying to us is that they’ve merged,” said Fire Chief Ron Peebles, whose firefighters have had to pick up the slack for late arriving or unavailable medical transport. “From what I understand, ASAP didn’t buy Atmore Ambulance out, they’re just going to join forces.”
Police Chief Chuck Brooks said he, Peebles and Mayor Jim Staff met last week with officials of both companies and were apprised of the joint venture.
“A couple of weeks ago, Karen Jay (co-owner of Atmore Ambulance Service) called and told me that they were going to join forces with ASAP to serve the people of Atmore better,” he recalled. “We had a sit-down meeting. We were assured that a new protocol had been implemented, that we no longer would have to call Mississippi to send out an ASAP ambulance.”
For local emergency dispatchers to dispatch an ASAP ambulance, in Atmore, the dispatcher had to call the company’s dispatch center in Mississippi and relay the call.
“Thursday through Saturday are the busiest time for us, as far as public safety agencies,” Brooks said. “When you have two ambulance services in town, and the two aren’t communicating, well … And one of them, we have to call Mississippi, and then we can’t communicate with them after they’re dispatched. There have been numerous occasions where there was no ambulance in town, and the fire department had to respond.”
Brooks, under whom all local police, fire and 911 dispatchers work, said the new protocol should remedy the problem to a high degree. But he and Staff agreed there’s no way the new plan will completely fix it.
“Believe it or not, we could use five ambulances here, especially from Thursday through Sunday,” the mayor said. “We wind up having to send the fire department to do lift assists and other routine medical calls.”
“The new protocol has just started, so we’ll see,” the police chief said. “Keep in mind, though, we have to dispatch ambulances to the prison, the casino, basically from Highway 113, west.”
Next week: We hope to have comments from ASAP and Atmore Ambulance Service officials, along with more from local police and fire departments on the merger of the two medical transport companies.