Some changes are coming to Hall County's fire stations, including the shifting of some paramedics from med units to fire trucks, but Fire Chief Jeff Hood is assuring citizens that emergency services delivery should be better than ever.
Hood met with employees Wednesday morning via teleconference from the Hall County Emergency Services Complex on Crescent Drive and then sat down later with members of the media to explain the move. Hood said he and his administrative staff worked on the plan for more than a year.
"We have been working on a service delivery strategy, evaluating what we currently do, how we do it and what we need to do to be more efficient going forward," Hood said.
The Chief said once the plan was in place and approved by Hall County commissioners, he met with supervisory staff to get their feedback and then ultimately unveiled the plan to employees.
"It's going to shift some personnel [and] staffing to some of the busier districts," Hood said. "It's going to put paramedic coverage in some of the districts where a lot of times paramedic coverage is [already] there, but it's on an ambulance that travels to the hospital."
When that happens, Hood said that pulls the paramedic away from the fire station, making him or her unavailable for other emergencies.
Hood said most medical care in emergency calls is done in the field, not in the back of an ambulance, so using paramedics on a fire engine or a quick-response vehicle (QRV) will actually mean quicker response time for those who need emergency treatment.
Another part of the plan has all Hall County Fire Services vehicles equipped with additional life-saving materials. Fire engines and QRVs will be equipped with cardiac monitors, 12-Lead EKGs, a Lucas Device and the medicines that are available on ambulances. The only item that won't be available will be the stretcher that an ambulance commonly holds.
Hood said the stations that will be receiving the additional personnel will be Stations 1, 4, 5, 7 and 8. (Follow this link
to see a map of all Hall County fire stations.)
While personnel may be shifted to other stations, Hood said no employees will lose their jobs.
Hood said he was aware of some of the social media chatter over the last few days where a number of residents have expressed concern about the loss of ambulances at the stations that get fewer calls.
"We're shifting it [the equipment] to a QRV or firetruck that stays in district a whole lot more than an ambulance does, so that paramedic coverage is there," Hood said. "I think that's what people have to look at and get past. It's not the apparatus that the paramedic care is delivered on...it's that the paramedic care is being delivered irregardless of apparatus."
Hood acknowledged that he and his staff will have to educate the public to make sure they are comfortable with the changes.
In addition, a press release issued Wednesday afternoon from Hall County Government said Hall County Fire Services Medical Director Dr. Preston A. Ball had reviewed the new service delivery model.
"This is a proven method to maintain a high level of care for our patients and is in no way a reduction in service," Ball said in the press statement.
The county also said there are plans in the works for future upgrades to enhance emergency medical response in the county, such as a new process that will enable the capture of analytics on 911 calls.
"That will give us the ability to predict what area of the county our next call will come from, and we can rotate first responders to that area in order to provide an even faster response time," said Kim Bond with Hall County 911 via the same press statement.
Hood said he and his administrative staff will be watching the response times and level of care provided under the new system, and he said adjustments will be made as needed.