New county-owned ambulance has smooth rollout

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

LEE COUNTY – The director of the now Lee County publicly-owned EMS/Ambulance service said the first day of operations was fairly smooth.

Director Dennis Cosby, who spent most of the day at main offices in Donnellson, said the day went as expected if not even a little easier than expected.

“Actually, it was pretty quiet during the day, but the evening and into the night we we’re pretty much constantly rolling,” he said. “But honestly it went fairly smoothly. None of the hurdles were things we didn’t expect.”

Jason Dinwiddie, the ambulance services Director of Operations spent most of the day Tuesday night in preparation for the ownership transfer June 30.

“He must have been working until about 11 p.m. getting trucks transferred over and then Wednesday he was running most of the day,” Cosby said.

Lee County Ambulance is using some loaner trucks while the new rigs are being finished for delivery.

“People will still see some strange unmarked ambulances for a while because we are still using some loaners. The transfer trucks are still missing computer chips and Ford hasn’t provided any information when those will be ready,” he said. “If we have them by November I would be surprised.”

Another vehicle had an issue and had to be sent back, but Cosby said that should be returned in two to three weeks.

Other than that there were a few software glitches that are just part of the transfer process. Cosby said Windstream, J&S Electronics and county IT personnel were on hand most of the day to make sure communications were consistent.

He said the other thing the department is waiting on is software for LeeComm that will allow dispatchers to give instructions for CPR over the phone.

“With the ambulance service, they were able to do that over the phone because they were certified, but LeeComm dispatchers need this software, and then some training before they’ll be able to do that,” Cosby said.

The department is now fully staffed with paramedics, but is one full-time EMT short. Cosby said there is plenty of part-time staff that will help fill the gap until the final EMT is brought on board.

He also said the current radio system makes it difficult to hear ambulance communication. He said the new digital upgrade that is taking place in the county should correct that problem. That is the same issue the county fire departments, police stations, and sheriff’s department are encountering throughout the county.

“This is one of the reasons why we can’t wait for that digital upgrade. In Donnellson a lot of times we can’t hear the truck responding to LeeComm,” Cosby said.

“But overall, I have to admit, it was less of a headache than I thought it would be Wednesday. The Youngs had everything ready the day before and almost everything moved out. At 8 a.m. Wednesday we switched over pretty easy,” he said.

Bill Young, the former director of Lee County EMS Ambulance, Inc. and a member of that group’s ownership family was on hand to assist with the transfer.

“Bill was great and he was around most of the day yesterday until late afternoon.”

Lee County spent just over $1 million on six ambulances and two administrative vehicles, and then paid $442,500 for the former ambulance company’s property and supplies, including one full service ambulance. The county had been subsidizing the private company’s operations to the tune of about $420,000 annually. That number increased to $900,000 in fiscal year 2020.

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