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E-911 suspends Opportunity EMS

The Covington County E-911 board this week suspended its dispatch agreement with Opportunity EMS for 60 days.

Mark Ryan, attorney for the board, said Thursday that the suspension stems from an accident involving an off-duty officer on a motorcycle. Covington County Deputy Larry Smith died in the accident on Sept. 30. His wife was also a passenger.

“They got a code 3 call,” he said. “Opportunity EMS was on the rotation, and they responded with a basic life support unit and the personnel were not paramedics and did not have the training necessary for that kind of emergency.”

Code 3 is commonly used to mean “use lights and siren.”

Ryan said Opportunity EMS did not notify dispatch they didn’t have a paramedic available so that they could call another, competing ambulance service to handle the call.

“They got to the scene and called for a paramedic, even though they (already) knew it was a code 3,” he said. “That’s a black and white violation.”

Ryan said the infraction came up at a recent E-911 board meeting.

“Kristi (Stamnes, E-911 director) was asked if it was the first time or had it happened before,” he said. “And it had happened before.”

Ryan said an official from Opportunity EMS was in attendance at the meeting and she acknowledged that the infraction did happen.

“That’s an absolute, no-no,” he said.

Ryan said he had zero knowledge of whether having paramedics available would have had any bearing on whether Smith would have lived or died.

“I don’t know,” he said. “What I do know and what the board knows, is that Opportunity EMS did a response that was in violation of the contract.”

Ryan said E-911 has no authority to regulate ambulance services, but it does have the power to set minimum standards for dispatch agreements with for-profit ambulance services.

Ryan said for-profit ambulance services do hospital and nursing home transfers as well as have E-911 agreements, which he said includes having certain response times, training and specific personnel.

“Covington County believes when a caller dials 911 and Covington County transfers that emergency call to the agency, and if an ambulance is required, it is important that the call be transferred to a company who has proper equipment, response time and personnel to respond to the call,” Ryan said. “One of the terms of the contract is that if there is a code 2 or code 3 call, which are basically calls that require a paramedic level to respond, that they are not to respond with a basic life support unit or with someone who doesn’t have the proper training.”

Ryan said this is important because proper training can be life or death.

“We don’t want the to respond to the call and get to the scene and call for a paramedic when they get to the scene,” he said. “This will further delay the help that is needed.”

Ryan said the contracts are designed around public safety and are not abstract.

Ryan said a special-called board meeting is set for Oct. 19, at 10 a.m., at the commission chambers to give Opportunity EMS’s attorney a chance to respond.

“They said they felt blindsided at the board meeting,” Ryan said. “The suspension is in effect.”

What the suspension means is that Opportunity EMS can do transfers from the hospitals and other places, but that E-911 will not dispatch them.

“Basically, the board isn’t going to direct any 911 calls to them,” he said.