April 14, 2018 10:01:48 PM
Alex Holloway - [email protected]
Starkville is weighing the creation of an Emergency Medical Service District that would see ambulances housed at three fire departments in an attempt to reduce response times.
Fire Chief Charles Yarbrough presented the concept during a Friday board of aldermen work session at City Hall. Aldermen will discuss the matter further at Tuesday's board meeting.
Yarbrough said the EMS District could work through a public-private partnership between Starkville Fire Department and Ruston, Louisiana-based Pafford EMS.
The agreement, according to Yarbrough's presentation, could provide four new ambulances for Starkville Fire Department. They would be stationed at Fire Station 1 on Lampkin Street, Fire Station 4 on Academy Road and Fire Station 5 on Garrard Road. Housing ambulances at the stations would allow SFD to respond to medical calls and take patients to OCH Regional Medical Center.
Yarbrough said a contract with Pafford wouldn't come at any cost to the city beyond renovations at the three fire stations to accommodate additional personnel for the ambulances. He said that should not cost more than $15,000.
"This would allow Starkville Fire Department to provide life-saving service in a timely manner," Yarbrough said. "Time is everything. People say every minute counts, but if someone's life is one the line, every second counts."
Yarbrough said he hopes to have the service in place by July 1.
Medical services are a large, and constantly growing, part SFD's work. In 2014, Yarbrough said, SFD responded to 746 medical calls, 335 fire alarms, 215 good intent calls and 88 fire calls.
In 2017, SFD responded to 1,127 medical calls, 517 fire alarms, 256 good intent calls and 93 fire calls.
Yarbrough said SFD responds to all medical calls the hospital dispatches ambulances for, and can usually arrive on scene before ambulances do because it has the advantage of having dispatch points spread throughout the city. The new service, he said, could "easily" save three to five minutes on ambulance dispatch time.
How it could work
Pafford EMS Chief Operations Officer Keith Carter said during Friday's work session that his company started providing the service the city is considering in Brandon, then Pearl, and has since spread to Madison, Rankin and Washington counties, and Greenville.
Carter acknowledged that in other places where Pafford has implemented the service, there are some growing pains at first. However, he said those are generally worked out quickly.
"For the first couple of weeks, the phone rings a little bit," he said. "But I haven't spoken to anyone in two years. There's always going to be issue, there's going to be perception -- but we'll never make the same mistake twice."
Yarbrough said EMS workers would be employed by Pafford, and he expects some firefighters, who already receive EMS training, may work both regular duties with the department, and to respond to medical calls with the new service.
The city is still working to hammer out some of the finer details, and to coordinate with OCH to determine how the service could work in conjunction with the hospital's ambulance service.
Mayor Lynn Spruill said she's notified OCH CEO Richard Hilton of the concept, but she has not yet had a chance to speak in depth with him about it due to scheduling conflicts and Hilton being out of town. She said the plan, if it comes to fruition, could allow OCH to focus more on medical calls beyond city limits, which could work to reduce ambulance service costs by reducing dispatches.
"Obviously the city wants to have that conversation with the hospital," Spruill said, "just so we can help them understand we're not trying to be in any way adversarial. We're trying to serve our residents better and their residents better."
OCH representatives did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Aldermen express support
Aldermen Sandra Sistrunk of Ward 2, David Little of Ward 3 and Jason Walker of Ward 4 expressed support for the concept during the work session. The other aldermen were absent, but Yarbrough said he's made efforts to contact them and inform them of his presentation.
"I think it's an opportunity for us to provide a better service," Sistrunk said. "It's reflective of how the fire department's work has changed -- moving away from purely fire services to more medical services. It's a really common practice in lots of towns. I know when I travel, a lot of the time when you see a fire station, it's pretty common to see an ambulance there as well."
Little said he liked it, especially as a way to serve portions of Starkville that are far from OCH.
"I like this concept," he said. "Anybody on the south side of town has got to wait for someone to come for the north side of town, and those first few minutes are critical."