Fanning Springs, Morriston to get ambulances

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By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

The county's Department of Public Safety has revealed plans to station two new ambulances — one in Morriston and another in Fanning Springs in the coming year. 

In a workshop on capital improvement plans for the county, Public Safety Director David Knowles unveiled plans to place an Emergency Medical Services unit in Fanning Springs next to the fire house and in Morriston on the fire house property leased from Harriet Downs. Also new: living quarters for a fire crew at Fowler's Bluff fire station which is now staffed only during the day.

The plan for an ambulance to be stationed in Fanning Springs could put the kibosh on Chiefland's pleas to return a second ambulance to the city's EMS station. Chiefland and Williston once had two EMS units in their cities, but budget cuts in 2009 forced the county to take one from each city. The county has one EMS unit in Inglis and another in Cedar Key. Two stationed at the EMS headquarters in Bronson and along with two advance life support (ALS) units staffed by battalion captains provide coverage when an EMS unit is on a call. 

The county and Chiefland officials have been at odds over returning a second ambulance to Chiefland  and funding an ALS certificate of need and training for Chiefland Fire Rescue. Adding to the rancor between the two: The city refuses to collect county EMS impact fees on new construction — although it collects other impact fees, including those for public schools. 

The plan for adding sleeping quarters at the Fowlers Bluff fire station calls for using a portable building donated by the Levy County School Board. Knowles told the commission the sleeping and cooking facilities will cost $26,300 and the money is in this year's Public Safety budget. 

The commission approved the Fowlers Bluff plan 4-1 with Commissioner Chad Johnson of Chiefland (R-District 2) voting against. 

Knowles said Fanning Springs EMS unit could be staffed with the county's seventh ambulance by mid-year. “Our intention is to place one from Bronson and to put one down in Morriston to cut our response time.” He said the county will be using the smaller Mercedes ambulances that have cut the EMS' fuel usage by half.  The quarters for the crew will be a double-wide trailer donated to the county by Air Methods, the county's contractor helicopter ambulance service. The cost for moving and hooking up the quarters is $12,500 and will come from EMS impact funds collected from new constriction permits in the county. 

In locating the two ambulances, the county will need to construct sleeping, kitchen and bath facilities for the crew that work 24-hour shifts. In response to a question, Knowles said it will cost the his department $468,000 annually for staffing, utilities, certification, uniforms and other expenses.

Commission Chair Ryan Bell said the money will come out of the existing Public Safety budget and be supported by the increased collections on billing. Knowles' last quarterly report showed collections were at 37.3 percent in July and 29.7 percent in August. In past years, the collections rate has been 12 percent or lower. 

The commission approved the two moves in a unanimous vote.