Ambulance spat not over
Stephanie Myers
Reestablishing ground already set in a meeting last week with Loudon County Commission, Priority Ambulance Service and Rural/Metro agreed Wednesday that the closest ambulance provider to an emergency will assist in life-threatening situations.

Despite two meetings on the subject, the interim mutual aid agreement hasn’t exactly been followed.

“They’ve not been doing that yet. Again it sounds like we’re picking on one, but we’re really not,” E-911 Director Jennifer Estes said. “It’s just that the call volume is higher than in the cities, so obviously the issues are going to hit on the county side of it a little bit more than the cities. There is not a lot that the county services will be closer to if it was a city call but it is the opposite. The cities are a lot closer to some of the county calls.

“We’ve not had any that were immediate life threat or the dispatchers would have made the call to send the closest at that point,” she added.

The two ambulance providers agreed to finalize their mutual aid agreement via email.

Loudon County Mayor Estelle Herron said during a special called meeting with commission last week that the twoambulance providers have until July 15 to hash out a structural plan for E-911 dispatchers to follow after instances were alleged that response time and jurisdictions were a problem.

In one Memorial Day situation, Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens said it took 14 minutes for one provider to respond to a wreck in which the woman later died while the other provider was stationed “about a mile outside the city limits.”

“If you know you’re 15 minutes out and there is an ambulance four minutes closer and you know a patient can benefit from that then I think that the intent of Loudon County and everyone at this table and in this room is we do what is right for the patient,” Estes said.

Herron also said employees of the two privately owned companies had “swerved” at each other and even made obscene gestures toward other crew members from the competing company.

David Meers, the lone commissioner who attended Wednesday’s meeting, said he was pleased with the discussions between Priority and Rural/Metro.

“We just want to see the ambulance service covered and good service provided for all of the county,” Meers said. “I’m hoping it all works out, and I think it will.”

Estes said after a plan is finalized it must be approved by commission and councils from Lenoir City and Loudon, which both have contracts with Priority within city limits. Rural/Metro is the ambulance provider for the county.

While the two companies reaffirmed their stance on emergency situations, they also agreed during the meeting, which was attended by fire, police and other first responder chiefs, that medic units will notify dispatch of their exact location from where they will be responding for each call of service.

Priority is equipped with GPS tracking systems to assist in the agreement, but Rural/Metro of Tennessee Regional Director Jerry Harnish said GPS systems in Rural/Metro units will go live in November. For now, dispatchers must rely on Rural/Metro crews to report their positions.

Estes also called for both services to inform dispatch on the number of operable units they will have for each day and when there is a change in the availability of medic units other than for calls initiated by Loudon dispatch during the shift.

“Right now we’re not getting that every day, so we’re assuming which ambulances are in service and which ones are not and sometimes I don’t know if that is the case or not,” Estes said during Wednesday’s meeting. “If they know they’re going to be delayed they need to relay that to us so we can send an alternate service.”

Greenback Fire Chief Ronnie Lett noted a recent emergency call that took Rural/Metro 35 minutes to respond.

Lett said after the meeting that response for Rural/Metro ambulance services in Greenback averages 20-25 minutes. “They’ve got a truck in Greenback, but I think they’re supposed to pull it the 12th of the month,” he said. “Very concerned.”

The Greenback department has since started a 24-7 first response program and will assist in life-threatening and less serious emergency calls.

Harnish said the company would soon be decreasing its number of units in the county to four, including one part-time unit, after a recent decline in needed services.

“Just for a few weeks,” Harnish said when asked how long Rural/Metro has seen a decline. Currently five Rural/Metro units, including the part time unit, are stationed in Greenback, Antioch and Sugarlimb Road. Harnish said “probably” one unit from the Sugarlimb station, which neighbors the Loudon County Justice Center, will be pulled “sometime in the next month.”

“We could really do it at any time. Like I said, there are just not the patients for the fifth truck to transport,” he said.

The county contract with Rural/Metro stipulates the company may arrange and utilize mutual aid agreements with neighboring ambulance providers, but one has not been established.

Dennis Rowe, director of operations with Priority, said the agreement is already built into its two contracts with Lenoir City and the city of Loudon. Rowe said two trucks and another part-time unit are stationed in Lenoir City and one in the city of Loudon.

“Irregardless of anything else we want to make sure the person who is sick or lying in the street is taken care of,” Rowe said. “The process is very simple. If there is a resource available to Priority, we will send it wherever it is needed within this community to take care of people. Period.”

“The jurisdiction only is not a problem. It’s just the geographical, is one ambulance closer than the other one when there is truly a life-threatening or potential life-threatening situation, and we all want the closest available unit if you’re the one who needs the help,” Estes said. “So making sure we’re all doing that is the uniqueness of it that we didn’t have before.”

“In the event of a disaster these documents that they’re talking about become important,” Rowe said.