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VOL. 131 | NO. 207 | Monday, October 17, 2016

County Commission Votes on Bringing Ambulance Service In-House

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County government could be in the ambulance business with a set of three votes Monday, Oct. 17, at the county commission meeting.

Commissioners vote on a $5 million amendment to the county fire department budget to pay for providing a base crew of 60 firefighters cross-trained as paramedics and emergency medical technicians. And the commission votes on another $2.5 million in capital outlay notes to buy a fleet of 10 ambulances.

The third resolution formally states that county government, through the county fire department, would provide ambulance service to unincorporated Shelby County as well as the suburban towns and cities of Millington, Arlington and Lakeland.

Ambulance service to those areas is provided currently by AMR Inc. – American Medical Response Inc.

But AMR wanted more money from the county to continue the service in 2017. And when the county rebid the contract, AMR was the only bidder among private ambulance services at $4.5 million.

County Public Works Director Tom Needham has told county commissioners the fire department could deliver the same or better service for $3.9 million, about $600,000 less than AMR, with a 12 percent increase in county fire fees. Those fees are based on the square footage of structures.

The commission meets at 3 p.m. at the Vasco Smith Administration Building, 160 N. Main St. Follow the meeting @tdnpols, www.twitter.com/tdnpols, for live coverage of the commission’s debate and votes on the three fire resolutions as well as other items on the agenda.

The administration of Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell went to the commission with the three resolutions earlier this month and commissioners have been weighing the decisions since their last meeting on Sept. 26.


“We didn’t ask to be in this position,” Shelby County Fire Director Alvin Benson told commissioners at a special committee session last week. “But once they (AMR) made their request, we had to make a decision.”

Benson and Needham are planning to start county ambulance service out of county firehouses on New Year’s Day 2017.

Needham’s timetable is to have the ambulances delivered, outfitted and ready by mid-December and the 30 paramedics and 30 EMS technicians hired and trained by mid-November.

“We are already in the EMS system,” Benson said of the county fire department’s response to emergency calls that aren’t a fire of some sort. “Already, we have a complement of EMTs and we have paramedics in our system already. We just don’t transport.”

Bringing ambulance service “in house” as part of the county fire department is based on 10,000 calls a year, which is the current call volume for county fire with 65 to 70 percent of the calls being for ambulances.

The planning also includes the possibility that Lakeland could decide to start its own ambulance service and no longer be part of the county system.

Needham said he has lined up provisions to rent ambulances for about a month if there is some problem with the delivery of the ambulances the county would buy.

“We want our belt with suspenders on it,” he said. “Our county is going to be there. That’s just fact.”

Most commissioners expressing an opinion at two committee sessions in the last two weeks were supportive of the idea, but also had a lot of questions, primarily about what the transition would do to the expected response time of eight minutes.


“I don’t want our times to drop,” said commissioner George Chism at an Oct. 5 committee session. “I don’t want it to be a money thing where we’re going to save money at the expense of safety.”

In other action Monday, the commission is scheduled to vote on the appointment of Kathryn Williams Pascover as the second interim county attorney since Ross Dyer left for an appointment as a state criminal appeals court judge.

The commission also takes the second of three votes on a pair of ordinances – one that would limit Luttrell’s ability to make such interim appointments without commission approval, the other to reclassify assistant county attorneys as civil service employees, making their firing more difficult.

The ordinances each failed on first reading at the last meeting in September. But under commission rules of procedure, an ordinance advances to the third reading even if it fails on first and second reading.

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