N.C. county adding paramedics, building $18 million emergency services center

More than half the funding for the Sampson County facility project will come from grants


Chris Berendt
The Sampson Independent

Clinton, N.C. — In a brief meeting Monday night, the Sampson County Board of Commissioners authorized the hire of six paramedics, with the understanding that an additional new vehicle will also be needed as of July 2022 for the new squad. The request was one that went unfulfilled during budget talks in June, despite pleas from local emergency officials, but ultimately received board approval four months later.

One of the priorities assigned to new Emergency Services Director Richard Sauer upon his hire earlier this year was to review existing emergency services operations and create a proposed plan to improve those services.

Monteith Construction is building the Sampson County 911 & Emergency Services Center, which will house the county's 911 telecommunications, EMS, emergency management operations and fire marshal services.
Monteith Construction is building the Sampson County 911 & Emergency Services Center, which will house the county's 911 telecommunications, EMS, emergency management operations and fire marshal services. (Photo/Monteith Construction via Facebook)

Following his evaluation, Sauer's first request was to echo the need for additional paramedics.

He specifically requested to add six paramedics for an annual cost of $448,000 by January 2022. The new unit will be located in Garland. Additionally, the vehicle would be added as part of that squad; and the county would contract for at least one, possibly two, part-time fire inspectors. That cost will be paid by inspection fees.

At its meeting Monday night, the board unanimously approved the hire of the paramedics, along with the additional items.

Currently, six full‐time paramedic level Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulances operate 24/7/365. Six volunteer EMS agencies and four fire‐medic units support the career system, however Sauer said the "current EMS system is fragile."

He cited increasing call volume and increasing response times, as well as the need for more transports to out‐of‐county hospitals, along with longer wait times at hospital emergency rooms in the need for more personnel. Along with that, volunteerism is declining, Sauer noted.

The message was one local officials have heard before — not long ago.

Earlier this year, the request for six paramedics was made as part of the proposed 2021-22 Sampson County budget. It went unfulfilled, emergency officials voiced the imminent need for the additional personnel.

Taylors Bridge Fire Chief Alan Williams spoke to the matter during the Sampson County Board of Commissioners' regular June 2021 meeting.

"One of the most emergent needs is the addition of six additional paramedics, which will allow us to staff an additional ambulance 24 hours a day," Erick Herring, operations chief for Sampson County EMS, stated in his formal budget request earlier this year. "This will move us from having six ambulances staffed to seven."

Upon County Manager Ed Causey's recommendation, hit the cutting-room floor. The county manager cited the need to evaluate the request further.

"We will hold the request for paramedics in abeyance and do an in‐depth review over the next year,' Causey stated in his May 2021 budget message. "We want to review schedules, headquarter locations, data on calls, better utilization of the volunteers, etc. and respond to our potential needs in the most proactive and responsible manner possible. We will then recommend additional positions as needed."

In addressing the board back in June, Williams said the issue is approaching dire status.

"Right now, there's only six advanced life support units in this county — only six. From (N.C.) Highway 24 north, there's five — two in Clinton, three staged in the northern end of the county; (from N.C.) 24 south, there's only one," said Williams.

When that unit goes out on a call, the number available, specifically for the southern end, drops to zero. Williams called the $230,000 for "six paramedics who can save lives a small price to pay for what needs to be done."

"That won't fix the EMS problem in the county, but it's a start," said Williams.

Williams said someone was going to get hurt if there was not more personnel to assist.

"I've seen it firsthand," said Williams. "We're going to hurt somebody in this county. We see it out there every day. I strongly urge you to reconsider, and please add those six paramedics. That won't get but one truck, but that's one we don't have. Because when that truck's gone, there's nothing. I don't have anybody to call for help. Our citizens deserve and expect to have an ambulance readily available when needed."

On one particular day in late January 2021, all Sampson County EMS units were busy on calls and there were three calls pending with nobody available to respond.

"This is taking a toll on our staff as it's resulting in less down time to catch up on reports and other duties. The pandemic has likewise taken a toll on our volunteers," Herring noted.

EMS facility progresses

Late last week, Monteith Construction posted an update to the construction of the Sampson County 911 & Emergency Services Center project, which is ongoing.

"Structural Steel installation began this past week with the joists successfully placed in the EMS bays. Steel installation will wrap up in the main building in the coming weeks as exterior air barrier installation begins, along with light gauge metal framing," the construction company noted.

The roughly $18 million project broke ground back in April, adjacent from the Sampson County Detention Center on Fontana Street.

More than half the funding for the project will come from grants, including a $5.5 million PSAP Disaster Recovery Grant, $1 million from Golden LEAF and $3.5 million from a N.C. Office of State Budget and Management Disaster Recovery Grant.

The facility will be 36,000 square feet and will house the county's 911 telecommunications, emergency medical services, emergency management operations, fire marshal and addressing services, along with the emergency operations center.

The public safety facility was designed by ADW Architects of Charlotte, with engineering by the Stewart, Benesch and Optima companies. Consultation and planning services for 911 telecommunication design and migration has been provided by Mission Critical Partners.

At the time of the groundbreaking, Monteith Construction representatives said they expected to complete the project in 14 months, with a ribbon-cutting targeted for summer of 2022.

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(c)2021 The Sampson Independent (Clinton, N.C.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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