By Mindy Ragan Wood, Staff Writer – Council members voted Monday night to approve an expansion project for the city’s fire department after a previous presentation demonstrated the need for improvements.
Fire Chief Andy Logan was pleased with the decision.
“We are very excited about the council’s approval to move forward. We are looking forward to what the future holds,” he said. “The expansion will give us the ability to pursue different options relating to EMS. We will be able to house EMS crews, however whether those crews are in-house or provided by a contractor will be up to the city council.”
During the October meeting, Logan provided a power point presentation which showed the need to add to the existing facility. It also highlighted the poor response times from EMSA, which currently has an agreement to provide EMS services to Piedmont.
His presentation was based on reports EMSA provides to the department and demonstrated the average wait time for an emergency response was 20 minutes.
“Our current issues are very simple, it’s response times,” he said. “Twenty minutes is the average, I know some of you have heard longer, some of you have experienced longer. Our current longest is 54 minutes.”
Piedmont has an inter-local agreement with EMSA, but the agency does not provide any guarantees to Piedmont “whatsoever,” he said. “There is no requirement from EMSA other than sending an ambulance to Piedmont. No time constraints, no service standards, nothing.”
Response requirement for calls are based on two categories. Priority one the response time requirement is 11 minutes, and 25 minutes for priority two calls. Logan said EMSA claims it is in their contract that response time requirements are waived per the agreement, but he disputed that.
“I have been asking for six months, I’ve talked to Mr. Segler, I’ve talked to their legal team and they cannot produce it. It’s there, but in my opinion they are in breach of contract. There’s some legal-ease there that I don’t understand. They said they don’t have to meet these times at all. I say they do.”
Logan reported that out of 107 priority one calls, EMSA was late to 79 of them. For priority two calls they were late 27 times.
“I looked at the numbers and they’re late 49 percent of the time by their standards, they’re late,” he said. “Seventy-nine out of 107 they’re late. That is shocking.”
The cost of the contract is $64,816 per year.
Despite the complaints from Logan, the city council opted to continue its contract with EMSA.
Adding onto the fire department would allow firefighters to offer in-house EMS services, which would greatly reduce the response time. The expansion would allow for bay space to store EMS trucks and living quarters.
The estimated cost for an in-house EMS would be $360,000. Two ambulances would cost approximately $300,000. Startup costs for supplies, licensing, hiring a medical director, and staff equipment would cost approximately $36,500.
Logan suggested funding options to pay for the project such as capital improvement funds, a loan, or a bond issue.
Recurring operational costs could total $320,000 but could be offset with a $6 utility fee, $60,000 in billing revenue, $164,062 in municipal revenue, and regaining the $64,816 currently paid to EMSA. Logan’s estimated cost analysis would leave only $13,791 in operational costs after revenue adjustments. He suggested the entire project could be completed in three phases over a period of two to three years.
The council agreed to tackle the project in segments but did not vote on or endorse any funding method.
Councilman and Vice Mayor Bobby Williamson said he was pleased to see the board agree on the expansion.
“Very excited,” he said after the meeting. “The expansion will take care of several issues as well as eventually allow us to house and operate Piedmont’s own ambulance service.”