MJ eyes fire, EMS changes
MT. JULIET -- Proposals to contract with Medic One for ambulance services and to expand the Mt. Juliet Fire Department by hiring six new firefighters were presented at a special called meeting of the Mt. Juliet City Commission Thursday night, but the commissioners took no action on either proposal.
Instead, they took the proposals under consideration to possibly come up for a vote on June 23 at the second reading of the city’s budget for the new fiscal year that will begin July 1, if another special meeting is not called before then.
The six new firefighters would work out of the city-owned fire station at 69 East Hill Street, behind City Hall – currently occupied by the Wilson Emergency Management Agency (WEMA) – which would become the city’s Fire Station No. 2.
At Thursday night’s meeting, Mt. Juliet Fire Chief Erron Kinney presented a financial plan for the proposed expansion of his department to open the second fire station.
Kinney pointed out that with only one fire station, located on Belinda Parkway on Mt. Juliet’s south side, and no second fire station in the center of town, the fire department is not meeting national standards for responding to structure fires.
“We have responded to 22 structure fires in the year I’ve been here,” the fire chief said. “We are supposed to have 10 people on the scene in 10 minutes, at least 80 percent of the time. We haven’t met that standard even once.”
But with the new firefighters and the paramedic/firefighters from Medic One, Kinney told the commissioners, the department could put 10 people on the scene in 10 minutes almost every time there was a fire.
Medic One proposed to take over ambulance services
Turning to the topic of contracting with a private ambulance provider instead of relying on WEMA for emergency medical services, as Mt. Juliet currently does, Kinney said his department has interviewed four different ambulance services, and Medic One seems to be the best of the four.
Then he introduced Medic One Chief Executive Officer Jim Reeves, who presented his company’s proposed ambulance service, which would not cost the city anything.
Reeves said that the company he started and still owns with his wife could provide Advanced Life Support service and critical-care-certified attendants on all runs.
“And they are cross-trained in firefighting and rescue as well,” he said.
When Mayor Ed Hagerty asked why not consider the two proposals separately, Kinney said that could be done, but neither piece alone would allow the fire department to meet the “10 responders in 10 minutes” criteria.
“With this plan, we will have six of our firefighters on each shift, and four of their paramedic firefighters,” he said. “That means even if no volunteers are available, we still have 10 people to fight the fire.”
Kinney said the plan would be to station three firefighters, at least one truck, and an ambulance crew at each fire station.
Reeves also pointed out that Medic One’s ambulances would only serve Mt. Juliet, and not have to answer calls in the county as well. And if both Medic One ambulances were on calls at the same time, Medic One has back-up ambulances it would send to cover the city until the regular crews were available again.
Plus, Medic One also offers disaster services, and the city would have those as a back-up to WEMA and city crews in case of a major emergency, Reeves said.
Another valuable service that Reeves said Medic One offers is a computer recording of all the statistics about each call, available to the fire chief wherever he is. The ambulance company has developed a program called Street Eagle which allows every ambulance to be monitored both inside and outside at all times.
The program includes a camera in the front of the vehicle which shows what is happening inside the ambulance and on the road in front of it. Street Eagle also pinpoints where the vehicle is on a map, and records what is being done for the patient.
These facts and figures are used to determine how well the patients are being served.
Reeves said that in many cases, what the medics in the ambulance can do makes the difference in whether the patient survives, and even how well he or she recovers.
One example Reeves gave was a type of heart attack called a STEMI, or segment elevation myocardial infarction. When a STEMI occurs, the coronary artery serving the heart becomes blocked.
The treatment is to insert a stint to open the blood vessel back up. The sooner the treatment is completed, the less damage to the heart, and the better the chances for a complete recovery, Reeves explained to the commissioners.
If the paramedic is trained in recognizing the symptoms, the ambulance can take the patient directly to a STEMI unit for treatment, Reeves continued, adding that Medic One employees are given this training.
“If we take a STEMI patient to the emergency entrance, it’s about 90 minutes before they are transferred and treated in a STEMI unit,” he said. “But when we take them directly to the unit, it averages 39 minutes from the time we pick them up until they are being treated.”
No decisions were made
No final decisions were made at Thursday night’s meeting because it was a discussion-only meeting, and no votes were taken. However, Hagerty asked for financials on Medic One, and Reeves agreed to provide them.
After the meeting, District 2 Commissioner and Vice Mayor James Maness said he was impressed by what he had heard. “This sounds very possible, and it sounds good,” he said. “Everybody in this community deserves the best chance at life. That’s what we’re here for. It’s why we started the town. Then it was for police – now it’s for fire and emergency services.”
Maness said that at a residential fire in his district on the city’s northwest side earlier this week, two WEMA stations and the city fire department stationed on Belinda Parkway were called, and the city fire crews traveled the farthest distance but arrived first.
District 4 Commissioner Jim Bradshaw said he’s open to look at both the Medic One proposal and the fire department expansion, but he wants to consider them separately.
“WEMA does a good job – I get reports from them once a month,” he said. “But these people offer more data.”
More fire protection for North MJ
Although District 1 Commissioner Ray Justice had to leave before the meeting ended, he had already expressed interest and support for better fire protection for his district on the city’s northeast side.
If expanding the fire department to open a second fire station behind City Hall provides better fire protection for his district, “I will have no choice but to be for it,” Justice said Wednesday.
The current station provides full service for about half of Mt. Juliet, with WEMA helping cover the other half. According to Kinney, the new plan would cover 95 percent of the city as fully as it should be covered.
How much would it cost?
Kinney’s financial plan for the expansion calls for the addition of one division chief at an annual salary of $42,388; four firefighter-EMTs earning $33,398 apiece for a total of $133,592; and one uncertified firefighter-EMT earning $30,391 per year, for a total of six new employees earning $206,371 per year.
But City Finance Officer John Rossmaier, in a written statement circulated to the commission Thursday night, noted that the uncertified firefighter should be required to become certified, so the salary for that position would be $33,398 like the other four, for a final salaries total of $209,378.
Rossmaier added that by the time cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), taxes and other benefits are included, the actual salary cost for six more firefighters would be about $330,000 the first year and $356,000 per year after that, not counting COLAs and raises for experience.
The finance officer said the city’s property tax revenues, which are dedicated by city ordinance to fire protection, currently are “just a little above projected expenditures” for the fire department as it is, so the Emergency Services Fund (ESF) would keep growing at a rate of about $60,000 per year if no new properties are built and taxed.
Of course, new development is ongoing in Mt. Juliet, and Rossmaier indicated that could “accelerate” the ESF’s growth. Maness, likewise, said taxes on new developments planned in his district alone would pay one of the proposed new firefighters’ salaries.
But Rossmaier’s report warned that without new growth in property tax revenues, “with expenditures outstripping revenue at more than $350,000 annually,” the ESF’s cash balance “will support two years, perhaps even a third” until, for the following two or three years, General Fund revenues would have to be advanced to the ESF for “the first six months of expenditures while ESF awaits tax receipts.”
Equality in services
Being able to pay for the proposed expansion of the fire department appears to be a concern of several of the commissioners, while Justice and Maness, in particular, said they want their districts to receive the fire protection that they are already paying taxes to receive, but aren’t getting.
Tied into the issue is the pending renewal of the city’s inter-local aid agreement with WEMA, which has been the subject of ongoing negotiations between city and county officials.
The City Commission has deferred action on the proposed agreement to consider Thursday night’s proposals first, but neither the WEMA agreement nor what could happen to WEMA’s Station No. 3, currently located in the city-owned facility at 69 East Hill Street, were discussed at Thursday night’s meeting.
Correspondent Connie Esh may be contacted at email@example.com.