Fort Payne fire chief proposes new ambulance service

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FORT PAYNE, Ala. — The Fort Payne Fire Department wants to add another job to their to-do list: transporting victims of fires and other serious medical incidents like crashes or heart attacks.

The paramedics with the department stay busy.

“In 2019, we ran over 1,900 emergency calls. Out of that 1,900 calls, 80-something percent of those were EMS calls,” said Chief Ron Saferite.

When the call comes in, they gather their gear and hit the road to hopefully save a life.

“Once our guys get on the scene and we’re the first ones there, they start the IVs, they push the medication if it’s a heart attack call or if it’s a stroke call, we’re having to get started before the ambulance actually gets there,” added Saferite.

The only problem right now is that they cannot take patients to the hospital.

The city uses DeKalb Ambulance Service (DAS), but Saferite told News 19 that it sometimes takes 10 to 20 minutes for one of their ambulances to arrive.

“They are stretched out county-wide and sometimes their ambulance that’s usually in Fort Payne might be on transfer, so we have to wait on them to send one from an outlying station,” he told News 19.

The 10 to 20 minute wait could mean the difference between life and death.

“It’s a bad feeling knowing that you’re doing all you can and there’s nothing else you can do without getting that patient transported,” Saferite explained. “It’s a sickening feeling.”

He said that is the reason why he wants to add an ambulance service to the fire department that would only service the city limits.

He told News 19 it has nothing to do with how DAS is operated and said he plans to continue working with the agency whether they get an ambulance or not.

Saferite said they will still fight fires, but adding an ambulance to their fleet is just the natural evolution of the business.

“When I became a firefighter in about ‘91, that was when they were really phasing in the EMT type part of the business. Over the years has went from EMT basics as firefighters, to intermediates or advanced EMTs and now to full paramedics. Fires are less and less but the EMS stuff is always going to be there. People are always going to be having health problems, always going to be having car wrecks, accidents,” Saferite explained.

He said the fire department’s main job is to protect the citizens of Fort Payne from all life safety-type measures and having an ambulance will help do that.

Saferite added it would cost $250,000 to $300,000 for the type of ambulance they would need, plus three to six salaries for additional staff.

He said there are grants they could apply for to help cover some of that cost.

Saferite said he hopes the City Council will have a decision on the proposed new ambulance service within the next two months.

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