County fire and EMS services are in the beginning stages of a major restructuring process, with the two agencies set to consolidate in the coming months.
Following the retirement of Pickens County Police Chief Bob Howard later this month, current Pickens EMS
Director Sloan Elrod will serve as both fire chief and EMS director. Howard will serve as the director of Emergency Management Agency, the local arm of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
But Elrod said the transition will be tiered, with projections for the process to be complete - or nearly complete - by January of 2015.
“This isn’t just going to happen over night,” Elrod said. “I’m in the process right now of working out protocols and we’re going to get people cross trained.”
As part of the consolidation all current EMS crews, not already certified, will be trained to serve as firefighters, and vice versa.
Elrod noted that many emergency crewmembers are already cross-trained, including him.
The director said the move comes, in part, in response to persistently low numbers of volunteer firefighters, who may not be available when needed.
“We need more firefighters,” Elrod said. “There are not enough volunteers right now to respond. By merging the two departments all current EMS will be trained to respond to fires and all firefighters will be trained to serve as EMS responders. In effect we’ll have more people available on each call by having them cross-trained.”
Elrod said by having more crews available the county’s ISO ratings will improve, which means residents should see lower homeowners insurance premiums in the future.
Elrod said the county will see cost savings by not hiring a replacement for Howard, but that there will be a cost incurred for retrofitting emergency vehicles.
The Progress requested information from the county finance officer about specific salary changes with both Howard and Elrod, but the CFO was out of town until after press time.
“All EMS vehicles are now going to be equipped with turnout gear, which is a breathing apparatus that will fit into the vehicle,” Elrod said. “But this is where the SPLOST that just passed is going to help a lot. We are going to use some of what was set aside for fire for some of this gear.”
Elrod said part of the new arrangement, details of which he said have not been completely hammered out, will include a well-defined hierarchy among staff.
“Right now you have Chief Howard who is at almost every call,” he said. “With this new system we are going to have three operations chiefs. One will be on each shift. They are going to take the chief’s car and will respond to all the major calls, extrications, full cardiac arrests, and structure fires.”
Elrod said this will take some of the pressure off of him to be at every major call.
The director said unified emergency services are not uncommon, with similar arrangements in Cherokee, Dawson and Gilmer counties.