By Chris Gregory, Managing Editor

Details of a proposed merger between Trousdale County’s Volunteer Fire and EMS departments were the topic of conversation during a meeting Monday of the Emergency Committee.

“We wanted to see if we could answer some of the questions people might have,” said commissioner Bill Fergusson.

Commissioners heard from EMS Director Matt Batey, who presented preliminary estimates of costs that could be incurred by such a merger.

An ordinance to combine the two, along with EMA, passed on first reading at February’s County Commission meeting and will be up for a public hearing and second vote at the March 25 meeting.

RELATED LINK: Commissioners give initial OK to fire, EMS merger

RELATED LINK: Emergency Committee backs ordinance to merge fire, EMS

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Batey presented two options for the merger. One would leave two full-time ambulance crews but move one to the fire hall during daytime hours. The second would add a third full-time EMT crew, which would be stationed around the clock at the fire hall.

“I think the biggest concern that’s been asked of me is what it would cost,” Batey acknowledged.”

Batey estimated that the first option would incur additional costs of roughly $9,000 annually. That would go toward salary increases for EMT personnel who would be taking on fire duties as well. Option 1 also calls for the deputy fire chief to be filled on a volunteer basis.

Additionally, administrative staff would probably move to the fire hall.

“There’s no dramatic increase in having to fund additional personnel,” Batey said of Option 1. “It wouldn’t be full-time staffing, but it still keeps it staffed pretty regularly.”

Option 2 would cost roughly $140,000 annually, according to Batey’s estimate, and would require adding three full-time personnel.

Batey also addressed questions on the proposed organizational chart, saying that most of the positions already existed within the county’s current framework.

“Pretty much all of this exists, outside the deputy fire chief and the third EMS unit,” Batey said.

Asked what the benefits of merging would be, Batey responded, “It increases cross-trained personnel, we train together, we’re all under one leadership.”

Committee member Bill Hunt added, “Let’s be realistic; if that engine can get out five minutes soon that what our people are presently doing, that’s five more minutes to get out there to save someone’s life.

“No one’s trying to throw anybody out; we’re trying to up the service and make it better.”

The fire hall is not currently equipped for full-time staffing as it lacks beds, showers and a kitchen. Batey said that could be worked around for the time being, suggesting a futon for bedding.

“Those just aren’t absolute necessities,” Batey said of showers and kitchens. “If they need a shower, they can always run up to the EMS building. It’s not a dealbreaker; it’s something you can look at from a long-term picture.”

Questions were also asked about the current response time by the fire department, something that became a point of contention at February’s Commission meeting.

Asked what the Volunteer Fire Department’s current response time is, interim Fire Chief Mark Beeler said the average time for 2018 was just over eight minutes.

“We look on the incident report and see when it’s paged; then we look and see what time the first engine unit arrived on scene, not necessarily the first personnel,” Beeler said.

Fergusson added that he had checked with the Sheriff Department’s dispatch office, which handles pages for fire. According to Fergusson, the time for an engine to leave the fire hall after a page was consistently around five to seven minutes over the last 13 months.

Commissioner Ken Buckmaster, who also serves as a volunteer firefighter, raised concerns over incorporating EMT personnel into fire and vice versa. Job descriptions have not yet been defined for all positions in the proposed organizational chart.

“I am not opposed to this given the correct logistics,” he said. “But if you think that you’re going to guarantee improvements to the services… We don’t know what’s going to happen and I’m scared… I am afraid of who’s going to tell me to do what and get me hurt.”

Committee members ultimately voted to recommend Option 1 to the full Commission.

“I think we can do this and somewhere down this road, things are going to get better. It’s going to take time… it’s a good place to start,” said committee chairman David Nollner. “In the long run, it’s going to be good for the whole county.”

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.