Leader Blues

Friday, May 30, 2008

TOP STORY > >Dispatch system seen as critical

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

A group representing several cities and fire departments in Lonoke County that met Thursday evening to discuss the possibility of a county-wide ambulance service concluded after about two hours that what the county needs more is a county-wide dispatch system.

The consensus among most who attended the meeting was that speeding up the dispatching process and sending firefighters as first responders, especially in the more remote areas, would almost eliminate the need for county-wide ambulance service, which they decided would likely be impossible to fund.

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams, who went to the Lonoke County Quorum Court for its blessing on at least investigating the need and feasibility of a county-wide ambulance service so residents in rural southern areas would have better access to emergency medical care, was asked to talk to the quorum court about consolidating the dispatch offices in the county.
F
ast emergency care is crucial because Lonoke County does not have a hospital.
Greg Balwin, chief of Tri-Community Volunteer Fire Department and chairman of Lonoke County Fire Chiefs Association, was asked to talk to that organization about using firefighters more as first responders to medical emergencies.

With the exception of England, there were no representatives from the areas that were being discussed.

Ward Alderman Charlie Gastineau, who presided over the meeting, said all the cities and volunteer fire departments in the county were notified about the meeting.

Also missing from the discussion were representatives from the county, most notably Jimmy Depriest, head of the Lonoke County Office of Emergency Services.

Gary Meadows, the former Cabot fire chief who now runs Allied Ambulance Service, which covers Ward, Austin and CS and Z Volunteer Fire Department, suggested another alternative to a county-wide ambulance service. He said the cities in the southern part of the county could use volunteers to staff ambulances for basic emergency care and also to deliver patients to ambulances staffed with paramedics that might be in route to the same emergency.

Meadows said Des Arc has an ambulance staffed with EMTs to intercept paramedic-staffed ambulances and that the system works.

“You already have a rescue truck that used to be an ambulance and all you would need is a few supplies and a cot. And I’ll go on record; I’ll give you a cot,” Meadows told England Mayor Danny Maynard.

“It sounds interesting,” Maynard said of Meadows’ suggestion, and then added, “We could probably afford to buy a cot.”

Also discussed at length was the possibility of the five ambulance services in the county working together under mutual aid agreements like the fire departments do. Meadows said the competition for business is strong, but that the ambulance service would be more likely to agree to such a plan if the cities they are under contract to serve ask them to do it.

The group agreed, however, that mutual aid agreements among ambulance services would be pointless without a central dispatch center to keep track of where all the ambulances in the county were located.

“A county dispatch center would have to come before any talk of repositioning ambulances,” said Carl Stracener, chief of CS and Z Volunteer Fire Department.