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Officials discuss merging services

McDuffie County emergency officials asked county leaders last week to integrate the ambulance service with the fire service after the sale of McDuffie Regional Medical Center.

Fire/Rescue Service Chief Bruce Tanner, Assistant Chief Steven Sewell and EMS Director Tim Edwards addressed the Nov. 15 meeting of the commissioners' public safety committee. Tanner said a merged service would be more efficient, improve service and expand training.

No firm date has been announced for the sale of the hospital to University Health Systems in Augusta. The ambulance service now operates under the MRMC authority.

The panel, which includes Commissioners Paul McCorkle and the Rev. Fred Favors, received a draft version of a request for proposals to provide emergency ambulance service.

Tanner, leading the presentation, said keeping the ambulance service "in-house" by creating a new fire/emergency service would allow "considerable savings." He said the resulting cross-training would allow responders to answer both fire and EMS calls. He said it also would improve communication.

Tanner said the combined service would work to accommodate existing employees who prefer to continue in their specialties. New employees, however, would be trained and responsible in both areas.

He said fire service cadets would have a broader training experience. The increased total staffing would improve the fire service territory's Insurance Service Office rating, resulting in lower premiums. He said having fire personnel cross-trained in EMS "would be like an extra ambulance."

Sewell asked officials to consider the differing perspectives of those who would provide ambulance service out of public interest and those who would be motivated by profit. He said this is the county's best opportunity to establish a combined service. He said an outside service could bid low to secure the contract and could afford to lose money for a year or two before raising prices. "They kind of have you over a barrel," he said, because the cost of creating a county-operated service then would be too high.

Edwards said he also will work to keep the ambulance service under county authority. He said many veteran ambulance employees have their careers invested in serving McDuffie County.

The undated, 27-page request for RFPs defines the service area as unincorporated areas of McDuffie County, the city of Thomson and the town of Dearing, and unincorporated areas of Glascock County. That document sets minimum staffing at two ambulances and crews 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and a supervisor and quick response vehicle available 12 hours a day, seven days a week. The proposal also sets out review procedures and other minimum performance levels.

The EMS proposal was not on the agenda for the same evening's meeting of the full commission. The next meeting of that board is at 10 a.m. Dec. 7.

Web posted on Thursday, November 24, 2011

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