by Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
PONCE INLET - It might take a little less time to get to the hospital in an ambulance soon.
That's because of a pilot program offered by Volusia County that would allow the town to operate its own ambulances.
Recently, the Town Council unanimously voted to enter into the ambulance transport program for a six-month trial period. Under the program, local personnel would provide transport in response to non-emergency calls, which make up the majority of the town's 911 calls.
Fire Chief Dan Scales said the goal of the program is simple - for the town's fire and rescue employees to transport patients to the hospital.
"The bottom line is there's only so much we can do on scene," he said. "They (patients) need to go to the hospital, whether it's something serious or something minor."
County leaders voted to establish the pilot program in May. They offered Ponce Inlet, along with Edgewater, the opportunity to participate because of their greater distances from area medical facilities compared to other Volusia cities.
County ambulances would still transport patients in response to emergency calls, Chief Scales said. The county has provided ambulance transport through EVAC since 1981; EVAC operated as a private nonprofit service that contracted with Volusia County before county leaders took it over last year, according to Volusia County's website.
This would be the first time the town would operate ambulance transport for non-emergency calls, Chief Scales said.
The chief said it takes the fire department three or four minutes to respond to a call, compared to an average 10-to-20-minute response time from EVAC.
When answering a non-emergency call under the pilot program, he said, responders will initiate care for the patient and determine his or her transport needs. The patient is then moved to an ambulance and transported to the nearest hospital.
"It's going to be fluid, no stopping to talk to another care provider, no discussion of treatment options," Chief Scales said. "It's basically, let's go to the hospital. Let's go for a ride."
Non-emergency calls, such as automobile accidents with minor injuries, make up the bulk of ambulance transport calls in the town. Of the 272 calls in Ponce Inlet between Oct. 1, 2011 and May 21, only seven were considered emergencies, Chief Scales said.
The chief does not anticipate a significant budget increase due to the town's participation in the program since it will make use of existing resources and staff.
"We really don't anticipate our costs going up except for fuel and wear and tear," he said.
Volusia County manager Jim Dinneen agrees.
"...There should not be an extra cost if they're using existing people," Mr. Dinneen said. "It's really about (the town's fire department) using their own resources to enhance services in the community."
The department has one ambulance, as well as two large fire engines and one small fire truck. Chief Scales said there are currently no plans to add more ambulances to the department's fleet of vehicles.
Town Manager Jeaneen Clauss said if the six-month trial goes well, the town could consider permanently operating its own ambulances for non-emergency calls.
"The County has expressed support for this (program) becoming permanent," she said.
Council members believe the town's participation in the county's ambulance transport program will be a positive for the community.
"We want this department to be outstanding for our community," Vice-Mayor Tami Lewis said. "... I think this program is a wonderful opportunity to get into (ambulance transport) and see where it goes."
Councilman Scott Meacham agreed, believing the program would improve the quality of emergency responses within the town limits.
"This truly in my opinion enhances the quality of services that the people of Ponce Inlet have come to expect and appreciate," he said. "I think this is going to be very good for the town of Ponce Inlet."