It’s been rough going in 2021 for the Jeff Davis County Emergency Medical Service following a January fire that devastated the county’s EMS, Sheriff’s Department and Emergency Management Agency.
The EMS was perhaps the hardest hit by the fire as it wiped out its entire fleet of ambulances, except one ambulance that was on the auction block after it was taken out of service.
In an interview this week, EMS Director Roger Ogilvie detailed the travails his department has had to endure over the last five months. Replacing the lost ambulances, radios, equipment, etc., has been compounded by the fact Ogilvie has been unable to hire qualified people to bring his staff to full force, a problem that is being experienced in many other communities as well.
Following the fire, the EMS set up headquarters in the City of Hazlehurst’s Fire Department training room and Ogilvie went to work borrowing and leasing ambulances from other area counties, which Ogilvie said he was very appreciative of their coming to the Jeff Davis EMS’s aid.
Repairing the on-the-auction-block ambulance to get it back into service and replacing the lost ambulances and equipment has proved to be costly for the county.
Despite losing the ambulances and equipment, the EMS never missed a call in the weeks and months after the fire. But with his staff down to only five paramedics to provide 24/7 coverage for the county, answering all those calls has been a challenge.
The EMS force, down to half-staff in personnel, work a 24-hour shift, then are on call for 24 hours, and then have two days off. The overtime pay is costly.
“We’re trying to find more help,” Ogilvie said. “Normally, Jeff Davis EMS has prided itself in taking all requested transfers to other facilities. But now we’re having to use other services to make those transfers for us. We want to take care of our citizens ourself but, being at half-staff, we have to have help from other counties.”
Hiring new paramedics is made difficult by the fact some area counties pay more than Jeff Davis County does. Plus, Ogilvie explained, many paramedics are going to work at private medical transport companies because they can make more money there.
The EMS is now located at 3 South Walnut Street in a mobile home purchased for use as office space. A shelter was erected to keep the ambulances out of the weather when not in use.
While the county has ordered four new ambulances, Ogilvie said they won’t be ready for delivery until August. Meanwhile, the local EMS is working calls in ambalances with a different county name on the vehicle.
“But those are Jeff Davis County EMS people in the ambulances,” Ogilvie said. “I want everyone to understand that.”
The ambulances now being used are fine for any emergency within, say, a 50-mile radius, but longer transfers present a challenge. During the peak of the COVID pandemic, hospitals throughout the Georgia were experiencing a shortage of beds and the local EMS was called on to make transfers to South Carolina, Tennessee and other neighboring states. Following the January fire, the EMS was hard pressed to find reliable ambulances for such long runs.
“I want the public to have patience with us,” Ogilvie said. “We have men and women in the Jeff Davis EMS who are dedicated to the county and dedicated to the patients. We are going to serve the people.”
Ogilvie took a moment to express his appreciation for the public’s support following the fire.
“I want to say thanks for the support,” he said. “Thanks for the food, drinks, supplies and care shown during this transition. The people have been extremely helpful.”
Despite the difficulties, the EMS continues to do its mission and, with the arrival of new ambulances in August, things will begin to get back to normal again.