'We'd like our ambulance back': HCEMS faces Surgoinsville BMA over ambulance departure

Jeff Bobo • Mar 12, 2019 at 7:00 PM

SURGOINSVILLE — Surgoinsville won’t be getting a full-time ambulance back in its fire station in the foreseeable future, but Hawkins County EMS Director Jason Murrell has offered the city a part-time “day truck” in its place.

During a lengthy and at times heated discussion during Monday’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting, Murrell apologized for pulling the ambulance out of the city on March 3 without notification.

The HCEMS recently reduced the number of ambulances operating 24/7 in the county from six to five, mainly due to a staffing shortage which would require one of those six trucks to be manned by overtime employees.

Murrell said the number of calls that HCEMS answers in and around Surgoinsville can’t support that full-time ambulance.

Based on Hawkins County 911 data, Murrell told the BMA that over the past six months the EMS call volume dispatched to the Surgoinsville station was only 243 calls, or less than two calls per day.

By comparison, the number of calls answered within Church Hill’s 37642 zip code was 786.

Surgoinsville Mayor Merrell Graham and other board members said they’ve heard the ambulance leaving the station downtown four to five times per day.

Murrell said it could have been covering another zone.

“If we try to continue operating a sixth ambulance 24 hours a day throughout March, it would cost an additional $30,000 for the month of March — over our regular expenditures and payroll to staff that truck because it would be a complete overtime,” Murrell told the BMA. “ ... I have the whole county to look after, and I have to base the station where the call volume is.

“We lost six employees. We have a complete truck on every shift that is unmanned. If we staff that truck, it’s with complete overtime — the paramedic and the EMT on that truck, which would cost 30,000 additional dollars to staff that truck.”

With the removal of Surgoinsville’s ambulance, the town will be served by a 24/7 ambulance stationed at Church Hill Fire Department Station 2 on Fudges Chapel Road near Highway 11-W less than a mile from the Surgoinsville city line.

The day truck Murrell offered for Surgoinsville would stay in town eight to 12 hours per day. 

Other 24/7 HCEMS stations currently include the former Church Hill EMS station on Hammond Avenue in Mount Carmel; the main station in Rogersville on McKinney Avenue; beside Persia Baptist Church to the southwest of Rogersville; and at the Lakeview Volunteer Fire Department to the west of Rogersville.

Graham disputed Murrell’s call volume figures for Surgoinsville.

“I still don’t agree,” Graham said. “I can’t remember a time being here that we didn’t hear those sirens go out. I don’t know where you can get any more information, but I can’t buy that. This is too busy a place. We’d like our ambulance back.”

Graham added, “I can just go by what I see here, and I know the (EMS) is busy. In fact, I’ve often thought that it was super busy, and I cannot buy these figures. I think everybody needs to look at the situation and consider what we’ve discussed today and hopefully get the EMS back up here. I don’t think it’s right to lay the total cost of overtime for the county on the town of Surgoinsville.”

Several Hawkins County commissioners were in the audience for Monday’s meeting. On March 27, the county commission’s Public Safety Committee will open applications for renewal of the county’s two-year EMS franchise.

So far only HCEMS and Lifeguard EMS have applied.