Ambulance coverage shift to be considered

Columbia County Commissioner Scott Dean wants more ambulance coverage for the rural areas he represents. However, county Emergency Services Director Pam Tucker says the figures might not support a change in coverage.

"Looking at it right now, the picture looks really good," Mrs. Tucker said.

"It looks like everything is where it needs to be, but we want those locations to be based on the facts -- call volume and response times."

Emergency and county officials likely will meet before the year concludes to examine calls and response times to see whether a shift in coverage is needed, Mrs. Tucker said.

Mr. Dean believes adding ambulance coverage to southern and western ends of Columbia County is warranted.

"I think we need a little bit faster response times," he said. "If we juggle them around a little bit, I think it will help."

In recent years, the former Harlem mayor said, ambulances have been moved from inside the city limits of Harlem and Grovetown and he worries about the "significant" elderly populations in the cities.

As a volunteer firefighter and EMT with the Harlem Department of Public Safety, Mr. Dean said, he hears 10 medical calls for every one fire call.

"We need to make sure we're serving our citizens the right way and have the response times we need," he said.

One option recently discussed in a county committee meeting was moving an ambulance station from Sugar Creek, near the Lewiston Road and Interstate 20 interchange, to a fire station on Clary Cut Road between Appling and Harlem.

Though a new Gold Cross Emergency Medical Service office on Wheeler Road is nearby, Mrs. Tucker said the Sugar Creek ambulance likely will remain where it is. Of the county's five ambulance bays, Sugar Creek is the closest to I-20.

"It can more easily get to violent accidents, trauma injuries that we have on I-20," she said. "Along with the new construction coming to that area and the (Horizon North) industrial complex up the road, we feel like it is ideally located."

Regardless, shifting ambulances is a temporary fix, Mr. Dean said.

"Later on, as we continue to grow, we're going to need to add another ambulance," he said. "We've had five ambulances covering the county for about six years while our population has steadily increased."

Mrs. Tucker agreed that contracting with Gold Cross to add another ambulance might soon become necessary.

For now, the company that provides the county's ambulance service has met all the response time conditions outlined in its contract, Mrs. Tucker said.

Gold Cross Director Dan Gates was out of town Tuesday and had not returned a phone message by Wednesday afternoon.

Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.