Originally created 05/26/01

Services can share 911 responsibility



Columbia County officials scrambled Friday afternoon to figure out whether they had one ambulance service provider or two.

They still aren't sure.

One thing is for certain: Tonight at midnight, Gold Cross ambulance takes over the county's ambulance contract - replacing Horizon, which has held the contract for the past four years.

Both companies are still eligible to handle 911 calls for the county.

That's because of the county's required written plan for how it will provide emergency services, which is referred to as "zoning." To switch ambulance service providers, the county should have started the process to "open" the zoning months ago.

That didn't happen. No one told county officials what the process entailed until it was too late, said County Commission Chairman Barry Fleming.

"We've had some people who have been uncooperative in this process," he said.

So the county went to the East Central Georgia EMS Council to get an emergency temporary zoning for Gold Cross. On Wednesday, the council approved the temporary zoning and county officials began intensive work on the transition between ambulance services, including a Friday morning meeting with Horizon and Gold Cross officials.

By Friday afternoon, rumors were spreading and county officials were scrambling to figure out who was approved to handle 911 calls in Columbia County.

Friday's rush began with a letter from William C. Fields - the director of Georgia's Office of Emergency Medical Services - to the head of the regional EMS board. In the letter, he said the board should not have granted the emergency zoning request. Calls to Mr. Fields and the EMS council were not returned Friday.

"After reviewing the information provided to my office, such as the fact that Horizon EMS has agreed to remain the 911 provider until the complete of zoning...it appears that no emergency situation exists," Mr. Fields wrote.

That led to a series of conference calls involving state, county and ambulance officials. By Friday evening, county officials said the transition would occur tonight and both companies would be eligible to answer 911 calls.

But Gold Cross will have the county contract, use of the county-owned ambulance stations and the county's communication equipment. Horizon will have to provide its own buildings and contact information to the county before it is allowed to take calls, Mr. Fleming said.

Reach Jason B. Smith at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 115, or jbsmith@augustachronicle.com.