Fire chief implements new policy on first responders

911 Dispatch Center to send fire department's first responders

Starting next week, the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department’s first responders will be dispatched by the city’s 911 center because of worries that they are not being requested as needed from the city’s ambulance service.

Fire Chief Chris James put the policy into place after 911 Dispatch Center Director Dominic Nutter told him of his concerns about Gold Cross EMS.

“My people told me they had noticed Gold Cross wasn’t asking for first responders as often,” Nutter said. “I believe they have been asking for them less in general.”

In the new procedure, the dispatchers will refer to a list of 16 situations and send the fire department’s first responders automatically. Currently, they have to be requested by Gold Cross, except in four specific situations: CPR in progress, drowning, gunshots and stabbings.

The new policy says Gold Cross can still request first responders, too.

Gold Cross owner Bo Pounds said he does not believe his dispatch center has been asking for first responders less often.

“I don’t care what they send,” he said. “They can do whatever they want, as long as they leave room for the ambulance.”

Shortly after James became interim fire chief, the department’s EMS director at the time, Matt Paynter, presented a policy to James that he said was in compliance with the city’s contract with Gold Cross in which the ambulance service would be responsible for requesting first responders.

After Nutter and James met on the subject, James said he consulted with some of the fire battalion chiefs, the fire department’s lawyers and the EMS director, Dr. Phillip Coule of Medical College of Georgia Hospital. He said the policy came out of those conversations.

“I just want to make sure the citizens are getting the quickest medical attention possible,” James said. “We have 19 strategically placed fire stations. The chances are we can get to the situation faster than an ambulance.”

The policy also says Gold Cross cannot cancel the first responder unless they are on the scene and have “obtained sufficient information to know that a Fire First Responder unit is not necessary.” It says the 911 Dispatch Center should confirm the ambulance is on scene. Even in that situation, the first responders are to stay in route, but without lights or sirens.

James was concerned that first responders were being called off when Gold Cross was not on the scene.

“We don’t need to delay emergency medical attention,” James said. “I believe this policy will ensure the citizens get the quickest medical response.”

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