Chapel Hill EMS station opens

Wednesday, August 5, 2009
EMS Director James Whorley displays one of the ambulance service's new vehicles that includes a device that raises and lowers the coach of the ambulance to make loading and unloading patients easier and, therefore, safer, for emergency crewmen and women.

CHAPEL HILL -- Town and county cooperation for the public safety of residents in the north end of Marshall County was celebrated Saturday with a ribbon cutting at the new ambulance station.

Elected and appointed leaders, emergency crew personnel, their families and friends came to mark the day as special. Visitors saw where their rescue teams would start their race against time for the lives of their patients.

Some visitors were like tourists. Others spoke with authority about what's been accomplished, offering an objective perspective.

Marshall County's new ambulance station is an improvement on the basic design for Lewisburg's West Side Fire Hall, according to the fire chief who, like others, complimented the station near Chapel Hill Elementary School.
During self-guided tours after a grand opening, Lewisburg Fire Chief Larry Williams explained his view on quarters for EMTs and paramedics: "They're like the fire service. They spend a third of their lives at a station. Every three days, they're here for 24 hours."
One simple modification to the basic plan of Lewisburg's West Side Fire Hall was to expand a hall between the garage and the living quarters to make a larger day room, Williams said. Insulation of larger bay doors that protect and accommodate new ambulances were also noted by Williams and other emergency personnel. 
Like the proud owner of a new home, James Whorley, director of the county Emergency Medical Service, welcomed visitors to the open house, and made a request of parents who drop off and pick up students at the nearby elementary school: Don't block the driveway, or the median strip of Rocket Drive.
"It could be a matter of life or death," said Whorley, who spoke up to reduce that risk. "These [garage bay] doors will be down in the morning and people may not know that we've moved in. We don't want accidents."

Ambulances rushing to an emergency will have to cross the median strip of the divided road for the elementary school, thereby doubling the prospect of traffic issues for an ambulance when school opens and ends each week day.
Construction of the North EMS Station came with volunteer help, cooperation and, in the push and pull of American democracy, some conflict that resulted in changes to the original plan that were overcome with compromise and cost cutting. Thanks and explanations came from County Commission Chairwoman Mary Ann Neill, a commissioner who represents many of the residents served by the new station.

"We thank Chapel Hill for it's participation," Neill said, knowing the town provided $125,000 for the building, "and the Marshall County commissioners for their foresight."

The total construction cost of the building was $341,412.89, Neill reported. The county's cost was $216,412.89.

"We hope that the completion of the building will bode well for the future of the municipality and county partnership," she said.

"It's a building that's built to accommodate our present needs and take into account our future needs," Neill said, noting the town's growth rate.

"Chapel Hill has characteristically shown the most aggressive growth due to our location and availability of interstate highway access," she said.

This area is home for workers who commute to the GM plant in Spring Hill west of I-65. Many of the other commuters use that interstate and State Route 840 to the north as avenues to their jobs.

The new station succeeds one in a building provided by the Chapel Hill Lions Club in downtown Chapel Hill, across Horton Highway from the police and fire building and just north of the Post Office.

Realtors and developers Howard and Sally Wall of Murfreesboro, who have a second house here, donated the ambulance station land to the city as they sought to develop commercial and residential property.

"When we originally started, the building was to be there," Neill said while standing in front of the ambulance station and pointing to land to the right of the building.

There's a modest slope up to that part of the donated land and county officials requesting site plan approval from the town's planning commission were asked to place the building so it would be entered from Forrest Street, she said with other leaders substantiating the explanation. But that entrance to the station revealed a need to widen a subdivision street.

"When that fell through, I met again with the architect and the building ended up back here," Neill said, "I just wanted the building built.

"We brought this building in as inexpensively as possible," the county commission chairwoman said.

Garry Lawrence of Lawrence Brothers Plumbing and Heating said, "We did everything within our means to provide materials that would not compromise the quality of the building."

A "design-build" approach was taken to adjust the original specifications so costs could be contained.

Since the revised location and orientation of the building was on somewhat lower land, fill dirt was hauled in by the Marshall County Highway Department. Before that was accomplished digital photos by at least one cellphone camera were circulated and this newspaper displayed its own shot of water ponded around the building before construction and landscaping were completed. The resulting public discussion still smarts.

"It wasn't as bad as it was reported to be," Neill said.

"We cut costs as much as we could to save money," she said.

EMS employees Jonathan Harrison, Bill Reuter, Richard Medley and James Whorley painted the interior and outside trim of the brick station house.

"This is a community effort to be proud of," Neill said.

"It's great, the way they designed this," she continued. "There's very little wasted space."

Lewisburg's fire chief agreed: "It'll be easier for them to heat and cool it with no wasted space."

Williams also noted the ambulance station has four bedrooms, while his west side fire hall has three. The station house has two full bathrooms while the fire hall has a bath and a half.

"There's nothing wrong with it that I've noticed," Paramedic Anthony Williams said. "It's great."

David Copeland, membership sales manager for the AirEvac helicopter ambulance service, had a helicopter land next to the ambulance station, and Paramedic Melissa Foor said Copeland provided exact coordinates for the pilot who, like others, will use them for a Predesignated Emergency Landing Area (PELA). There are nearly two dozen PELAs in Marshall County. They include Forrest School, the National Guard Armory, the Belfast Lions Club building, and near the old Morgan School building in Petersburg.

AirEvac Flight Nurse Lisa Hollenbeck said the ambulance station is "more accessible to the community."

Distance is a time factor for patients, she said.

"The quicker the EMS personnel can get to a patient, the better chances they have," Hollenbeck said.

The county's EMS director also displayed special equipment installed on one of the ambulances at the station. A previous EMS director purchased a brand and style of ambulance chassis to accommodate a separate cab for the patient, EMTs and paramedics.

Switching to a truck chassis was an improvement over the previous ambulances that were modified vans. However, the new configuration resulted in a floor that's higher from street level, thereby making it difficult for an average-height man to load a patient on a stretcher into the ambulance.

The solution was to install air lifters that lower the ambulance for loading and then raise it before the vehicle rushes off to an emergency room or rendezvous with a helicopter ambulance.

"It's a great safety factor," Hollenbeck said, noting the device changing elevations of the ambulance floor comes with a retractable step on the side of the vehicle. "It's a normal step into the vehicle."

That reduces the prospect of an emergency crew falling while moving a patient, she said.

Whorley said he will be purchasing a different model truck chassis for ambulances in the future to avoid the cost of such additional equipment.

Also among the visitors at the open house were County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett and County Commissioner Reynelle Peacock.

"It's a very nice addition to the community," Peacock said.