County Public Safety Needs Outlined
The latest presentation on the county's Strategic Plan for Fire, Rescue and Emergency Medical Services was part of the Board of Commissioners May 15 meeting agenda.
Steve Allen of the Solutions for Local Governments consulting firm reviewed information collected under contract two years ago. His study reflects revenue opportunities and contains priority ratings for key needs.
Although his report was the same, Public Safety Director Scot Brooks said the county has not been standing still since Allen first issued his findings in November 2004.
"We have restructured and reorganized departments," Brooks said in an interview after the commissioners' meeting. "We've made a lot of changes."
Brooks said he has initiated a number of changes that did not require extensive financial outlay.
One issue that Allen emphasized is the need for a more secure site for the emergency communications unit. Allen made it clear that the location in the basement of the Currie Building is not a good one.
But Brooks said he ordered an immediate inspection of the facility with special emphasis on the overhead water pipes. He was advised that the pipes are in good shape for the time being and the facility will be safe for a few more years.
Brooks said consideration was given to moving the 911 center to another location but the decision was made to hold off, since the county is making long-range plans to build a new public safety center in a few years. He has been assured that the present facility will hold up at least that long.
"We have worked really, really hard, and we've made great strides," Brooks said.
During the meeting Allen reminded the commissioners that delivery of services is growing more difficult because of the growing population and the geographical size of the county.
To illustrate the point, he called attention to a growing shortage of volunteers with the time and expertise to pursue what Allen calls "a very demanding 'hobby.'"
Of 668 volunteers listed on the county roster, only about 150 are actually available for service, he said. That's because the roster contains some duplicates (people who volunteer in more than one field), others who do not respond on a regular basis and still others who are inactive but whose names remain on the roster.
"Volunteers simply can't do it anymore," Allen said.
In his study of "the volunteer dilemma," Allen said he learned that volunteers often find themselves bogged down by training and attendance requirements, administrative requirements, employment conditions, societal changes and expectations of the public.
Also disturbing is the number of overlapping districts for fire, rescue and emergency medical services. Allen referred to "a spaghetti of districts" as shown on a map illustrating the various boundaries for fire, rescue and EMS with color-coded lines in red, green and blue.
Moore County has 17 fire districts, 10 rescue districts and six EMS districts.
Varying Response Times
Their geographical sizes vary as do response times.
For example, fire districts range from 114 square miles for the Carthage district to six miles for Crestline. When the Aberdeen, Pinehurst and Southern Pines districts are removed from the equation, the average response time comes out to 11.78 minutes per call. The three towns are not counted because they maintain full-time paid personnel on duty 24 hours a day seven days a week. Their districts are more densely populated and cover fewer square miles, cutting their response time to just a few minutes.
Rescue response times average 11.44 minutes, although data were not available for a couple of squads. Rescue squads are largely made up of volunteers.
The EMS response time averages 10.5 minutes per call, and these six units are all part of the county's full-time program.
Response time is critical for ambulance service. Medical research cited in the study shows that within one minute a patient suffers cardiac irritability and brain damage is unlikely within four minutes. However, for longer than four minutes the possibility of brain damage exists, and the situation worsens the longer the patient must wait for help. After 10 minutes, brain damage may be irreversible.
Data on response time averages were based on time the call was received until a unit arrives at the scene of the disaster or patient.
The study shows a need for improved facilities and the addition of staff and equipment.
"A new emergency operations center is a necessity," Allen said.
Moore County's public safety staff has headquarters in the Currie Building in Carthage. When an emergency develops, as in a hurricane or snowstorm, the center is established at any place where the public safety director determines.
Allen saved some of his sharpest observations for the location of the emergency communications system in the basement of the Currie Building.
"Water pipes run along the ceiling there," he said. "All kinds of weird things are there."
His research shows that the communications center fields 194,252 calls a year at a rate averaging 12 to 95 an hour, depending on time, day of week and other circumstances.
His report lists needs in terms of additional staff, equipment and facilities, but it also includes suggestions for revenue opportunities. The county levies a special tax to support emergency medical services, but other resources could be put to work, such as fire district tax rate adjustments, a 911 telephone surcharge and subscriptions. Under the subscription plan, a resident could pay a set yearly fee to cover such services as ambulance calls.
Another resource, billing for EMS, is already being explored, Allen said. When the EMS system and 911 communications went into operation about 12 years ago, the county did not charge local residents a fee for ambulance service because everyone was paying the identical tax. However, many residents have Medicare or private insurance that pays for ambulance service, and payment is available through a billing system.
The study did not include law-enforcement needs. Law-enforcement agencies are dispatched through the emergency communications system, but their services are administered through more centralized sources.
Board Chairman David Cummings thanked Allen for the presentation, then added that "we still have a ways to go."
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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