For the past year, the provider of Long County’s future emergency medical services has been shrouded in uncertainty. But Emergency Management Agency Director Bob Heffley said last week that there soon will be no cause for concern.
On Thursday, Heffley told the Coastal Courier that the Region 9 Zoning Commission for EMS had provided the initial approval for Long County to provide its own coverage, and now the county’s request will go to the state for final approval.
He said that once the license is approved, the county can finalize a contract with Excelsior Ambulance Service to become the EMS provider for the county. Heffley said he expects the transition of service to occur around July 27.
During a Long County Commission workshop Tuesday, Heffley said the final details of the agreement with Excelsior were being worked out, but the estimated cost for the services will be about $300,000 annually. He said the proposed contract that Liberty Regional EMS offered was approximately $400,000 annually, plus the cost to furnish ambulances and pay for fuel and maintenance.
“I believe that when everything is figured out at the end of the year, the county will save close to $200,000 a year by going with Excelsior,” Heffley said.
Excelsior Ambulance Service was established in 2011, Heffley said, and the Baxley-based company is a fully licensed provider specializing in emergency and nonemergency medical transportation.
“The services that the citizens will be receiving won’t change a bit. Basically, the only change that they’re going to see is the color of the ambulance,” Heffley said.
He also said that Air-Evaq Lifeteam emergency helicopters will begin to operate with an auto-launch policy in the county. In the future, he said, when an E-911 dispatcher receives an emergency call that involves a life-threatening situation, a helicopter from Jesup automatically will be called on to respond to the scene.
Heffley said the auto-launch policy will not take place for every call but will be used for emergencies such as a vehicle accident where a person has been ejected or had a heart attack.
In the past, he said, an emergency responder had to be at the scene before the helicopter could begin its route.
Heffley said that if an emergency responder arrives on scene and determines that the helicopter isn’t needed, it would be canceled. He said the change in policy is to get people with life-threatening problems to a hospital as quickly as possible.
Heffley also told commissioners that a more secure emergency operations center needs to be established in the county. He said that if an emergency, such as a hurricane, hit the area, emergency responders and local leaders would be locked down to weather out the storm. The current mobile home where the EMA office is located would not be suitable for this, Heffley said.
He added that he will meet with the school superintendent and the board of education to ask if an office at the new high school could be used for this purpose temporarily. Eventually, though, the county would need to construct a permanent building to house the emergency operations center, he said.
Heffley also said he has applied for a $5,000 Community Emergency Response Team grant to assist in educating the community about disaster preparedness. With the help of Walmart, hurricane-preparedness guides are available to the public, he added. Heffley said he encourages all members of the public to pick up a free copy at either the EMA office or the courthouse.
Long County/Ludowici Fire Chief Richard Truman also spoke to the commissioners Tuesday. Between Feb. 1 and July 14, the fire department responded to 141 emergency calls, he said. Of those, almost half of them (68) were medical calls to treat patients or assist EMS personnel, the fire chief said.
Truman said the department responded to 412 total incidents during that period, which includes both emergency and nonemergency activities.
The fire chief said that with the number of medical calls constantly increasing, the commissioners should consider purchasing a backup first-responder vehicle in the future.
He also said he is looking at several grants to bring in additional funds for the department.
It also was reported at the meeting that the Long County Sheriff’s Office will hold its annual Community Night Out from 6-9 p.m. Aug. 7 at the recreation complex. The event focuses on safety with the goal of establishing better communication between emergency/law-enforcement personnel and the community.
Commissioners in attendance at the work session were Willie Thompson, Gerald Blocker and Chairman Robert Long. Vice-Chairman Dwight Gordon was not present