To save money, the underfunded Richmond County school system will not have ambulances at middle and high school football games this season.
Instead, two emergency medical technicians from the Augusta Fire Department will be on the sidelines.
School officials say the move will save $24,000 a year and not pose any safety risks to the public.
“(The EMTs) would have anything they would need in case it’s a catastrophic injury or noncatastrophic,” Deputy Superintendent Tim Spivey said.
In the past, an on-site ambulance was required to wait to take an injured patient to a hospital until a second ambulance arrived to be available for the rest of the game, Spivey said.
Now if a person is hurt, the fire department EMTs would tend to the injury and call an ambulance if necessary. Spivey said there are ambulance stations within five minutes of all middle and high school football fields, so patients will not have to wait longer to be transported than they did before the change.
The Georgia High School Association, which governs most school athletics for the state, does not require members to have ambulances on site. The Columbia County school ystem has ambulances only for varsity football games, according to Deputy Superintendent Sandra Carraway. For junior varsity and middle school football, the district relies on CPR-certified coaches and automated external defibrillators for heart problems before an ambulance is called for an emergency.
George Bailey, Richmond County schools’ athletic director, said he is comfortable with the EMTs replacing ambulances because they will have equipment that includes spine boards and fluids.
He said the ambulance service bills parents for transport, so many parents in the past chose to drive injured players themselves.
“Having the EMTs from the fire department would suffice what is needed on the field for football games,” Bailey said. “While football is a dangerous sport, I think everybody agrees with that; we can have serious injuries at just about any sport that we play – baseball, wrestling, track and field – but there’s no ambulance service at those events.”
The Richmond County Board of Education approved the change July 26 after Controller Gene Spires said it would save $24,000. The district spent $34,660 last year on ambulance services but could cut that by 70 percent to 80 percent by using EMTs.
The school system will pay each EMT $18 an hour per game, which would come to $36 an hour for two officers.
Augusta Fire Chief Chris James said the school system’s public safety department approached him about using EMTs.
“This is not something we solicited,” James said.
Because the EMTs would be on special assignment and not on the clock for the fire department, James was unsure whether they would be covered by the county’s workers’ compensation insurance in case of injury.
He compared the football job to a police officer working after hours providing security for a restaurant.
Matt Paynter, an accreditation coordinator for Gold Cross, said his company is concerned that the school system did not give it an opportunity to bid on providing EMTs.
Though he agreed that the EMTs could properly handle an injury, he said the special duty puts EMTs at risk.
“Unless the fire department is saying they’re on the clock for them, they don’t fall under the fire department’s medical direction,” Paynter said. “We wouldn’t put our people at that kind of risk.”