Firefighters at two Columbus fire stations will have new roommates this morning, as two Columbus Regional Hospital ambulances and their crews move into city buildings.
The moves are the result of an effort to improve response times and service while decreasing the subsidies paid by the city and county. Columbus Regional Hospital’s six-year contract expired at the end of 2012, and city and county officials began searching last summer for the next ambulance provider.
After a months-long search, the city and county approved a new contract with the hospital, which was signed in late December.
Under the contract, the hospital will have four ambulances equipped with advanced life support on duty at all times. Two of the ambulances will maintain their current homes, one at the Central Avenue and 27th Street CRH depot and the other at Columbus Township Fire Rescue station on Repp Drive.
Two ambulances will be relocated this morning to city firehouses. One ambulance and its crew will move into Fire Station 5 on Goeller Boulevard, while the second will move to Fire Station 1 at Washington and 11th streets.
Doug Harrison, deputy chief of operations for the Columbus Fire Department, said the move will allow a closer bond between the firefighters and ambulance paramedics.
“With our firefighters who work together, we have a brotherhood and a closeness,” Harrison said. “Even though we work with CRH, when you are living together, there is a bond there. I can tell you this, with the partners I had, sometimes it is the unspoken word, you just got to know what each other needed, and I think that is going to help with having these guys in our house.”
About 85 percent of the time a CRH ambulance is called out in the city, firefighters also respond to the call. Each fire station has paramedic-trained firefighters on staff. Although there are not enough paramedic-trained firefighters to have them at every station on every shift, the city has spread them out, especially at stations likely to receive a lot of medical-assistance calls. Harrison said it is not possible to have too many trained medics at the scene of a call.
“There is a lot of work, especially if you have a critical patient — someone who is having a heart attack,” Harrison said. “He needs all the extra hands he can have. ... A paramedic, he is the only one who can administer the drugs, the IVs, the intubations. Even just moving or manipulating the patient to the cot out to the ambulance, that needs help.”
Until the city and county went to a contract with CRH in 2006, the fire department since 1974 had operated its Medic 1 ambulance out of Fire Station 1. That station already had room set aside for an ambulance-crew office and bedrooms.
Space for the ambulance will be made among the bays of Fire Station 1 by moving an antique fire engine that sits behind the doors on Washington Street, Fire Chief Dave Allmon said. That antique will share a bay behind one of the working fire trucks that exit onto 11th Street, he said.
The CRH ambulance to be stationed at Fire Station 1 previously was stationed at Progress Drive, off Indianapolis Road, about 3.4 miles closer to Taylorsville and farther from the downtown area.
While Fire Station 5 has never had an ambulance, the building originally was designed to house a ladder truck and its crew, which did not happen. Without that apparatus, the station had an extra bay and plenty of bed space, Harrison said. For office space at the Goeller Court station, the medics will share a lieutenant’s office and part of a conference room, he said.
One of the biggest concerns for Mayor Kristen Brown as the city negotiated the ambulance contract was to station an ambulance permanently on the west side of Interstate 65. In an event such as the flood of 2008, the city’s westside
residents were cut off from ambulance service when Jonathan Moore Pike was closed by floodwater. That area essentially became an island, she said.
The ambulance at Fire Station 5 previously was stationed at Jonesville Volunteer Fire Department, on County Road 450S, almost 8 miles from its current location.
Allmon said that there were some needed repairs made at both fire stations during the past year, such as repairing a leaky roof at Station 1 and removing mold at Station 5. However, no significant remodeling or additions at either fire station were required to make the move work.
Jeff Logston, the city operations and finance director, said the city paid about $128,000 to repair the roof, climate-control system and duct work at Station 5 prior to the move. The city paid about $95,000 for roof and cosmetic repairs at Station 1.
On Thursday, dispatchers at the Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center were trained on new zones of primary coverage for each ambulance and what the backup plan is, should any of the ambulances be unavailable when a call comes in, said Ed Reuter, director of the Emergency Operations Center.
Developing those backup plans involved memorandums of understanding with Seals and TransCare ambulance companies, which operate ambulances in the county for non-emergency runs. They would be used as backups of last resort, if all of the CRH ambulances are out on calls.
Reuter said the ambulance moves required changes in the dispatch center computer system, such as redrawing zone boundaries. The center also has devised paper maps with the necessary information, should the computer system go down.
A group of emergency officials including the city, county, hospital and emergency operations center will meet regularly to review the zones set for each ambulance and measure response times and workload, Reuter said.