By Gary Nelson
Senior staff writer
A county-wide first responder program cleared another hurdle this week toward becoming a reality after the county budget committee narrowly approved $27,000 of funding to start the program.
Although it passed the budget committee, the program still needs to pass the full county commission's approval and will be considered during budget appropriations for fiscal year 2013-'14 before it would go into effect.
The program would be much like the city of Crossville and would be under the medical direction and license of Dr. Mark Fox.
"We're having an alarming number of calls that require lift assistance for large people and add that with the fact that we've always got one or some (paramedics) out with back injuries. It's from having to lift these people out of awkward positions from like in between the bed and closet, or wall," Cumberland County Fire Chief and EMS Director Jeff Dodson said.
The first portion of the program would simply be a lift assist program where volunteers from different agencies in various areas of the county would respond to emergency calls to assist heavy patients who weigh more than 275 pounds.
The volunteers would be paged out by a special tone.
Dodson said they have roughly 45 volunteers that would staff the program, with 15 from Fairfield Glade, 15 from the Rescue Squad and 15 from various county fire department districts.
The cost for lift assist only would roughly be around $1,500 to help cover the cost of pagers to be repaired.
A second option would include all of the lift assist plus include a first class responder that has passed the American Heart Association Health Care Provider class.
The 45 first responder volunteers would respond for lift assist, cardiac arrest, chest pain and stroke.
The full first responder program includes certification through the state of Tennessee. The class would be taught by a member of EMS (Noah Baker, paramedic with Cumberland County EMS) and includes CPR training.
The first responders would respond to calls for lift assist, cardiac arrest, chest pain, stroke and any life-threatening emergency call where there is a delay in EMS response. The first responder certification is good for two years.
All of these volunteers would have to be in good standing in their department in order to be a first responder volunteer. This option would be limited to a total of 20 members initially due to training and equipment costs and would roughly cost around $27,000.
Baker explained there are many cases in which there is a delay in sending an ambulance on a call because they are already out on another call. The first responder program would fill the gap and cover patients until paramedics with EMS could arrive.
Dodson told the Emergency Services Committee, which endorsed the program and sent it forward to the budget committee, the cost would be roughly anywhere from $26,000 to $28,000 to implement the full program.
Nathan Brock, Cumberland County finance director, recommended the program be set up on its own budget, rather than go through the EMS department or fire department.
Both commissioners Johnny Presley, 3rd District, and Carmin Lynch, 9th District, who are not members of the budget committee but attended the meeting, said they would like to see more information from the EMS department on the types of calls they are going on that would be separate from the first responder program.
Baker would be a trainer for the program and give classes to the volunteers.
"This would be a minute cost to run this program for the benefits it would provide to the county," Baker said.
After a lengthy discussion, Allen Foster, 4th District commissioner, made a motion to approve $27,000 for the program on its own budget.
"I think it's going to be money well spent," Foster said.
Terry Carter, 6th District commissioner, supported the motion and it was approved in a 5-3 vote.
Voting for the motion were Nancy Hyder, 2nd District; Foster; Carter; and John Kinnunen, 9th District. It takes five votes to be approved by the committee, so budget committee chairman, Harry Sabine, 1st District, also voted yes, making the fifth vote.
Voting against the motion were commissioners Dave Hassler, 3rd District; Jan McNeil, 5th District; and Mike Harvel, 7th District.