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Effingham County EMS call volume continues to increase
Effingham County EMS
An ambulance sporting Effingham County EMS’ new graphics package (left) takes off en route to an April 28 car accident on Ga. Hwy 21 in Springfield. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff
EMS Director Wanda McDuffie
EMS Director Wanda McDuffie - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

SPRINGFIELD — Emergencies don’t make appointments. If they did, Effingham County EMS’ calendar would be almost full.

In 2021, Effingham County EMS received 7,614 calls for service, up from 4,289 a decade earlier. The pace continues to be brisk in 2022 as it responded to 2,523 calls in January through April, more than 200 more than the same period in 2021.

“Last year during the peak of COVID-19, we ran 855 calls in August,” Effingham County EMS Director Wanda McDuffie said. “At that point, we had been averaging about 600 a month so that was  a very big increase that we handled.”

COVID-19 is responsible for part of the call increase but not all. Effingham County’s population has grown by more than 10,000 people since 2,017

“Of course, with the growth of the county, that’s going to contribute,” McDuffie said. “Our average number now is 630-650 calls a month.”

 The COVID-19 outbreak prompted numerous new safety protocols in 2020 that are still in place. These include regularly spraying ambulances with a powerful disinfectant. 

“We still wear masks on all our calls, too,” McDuffie said. “The same guidelines are still in place as far as the cleaning, disinfecting and protecting ourselves and our patients.”

McDuffie mentioned that the number of COVID-19 cases in the area started trending upward again in early April.

“But, it’s not as bad as all the respiratory stuff that we had before (in 2020 and 2021),” she said.

EMS’ call volume stresses its fleet of ambulances.

“We put about fifty or sixty thousand miles a year on our trucks,” McDuffie said, “and it’s about a fourteen- to 15-month turnaround from the time you order until you get an ambulance.”

McDuffie hopes Effingham County EMS will receive a three new ambulances in January 2023. They will sport the new graphics package that was unveiled last November. Blue has replaced orange as the dominant color on Effingham County EMS vehicles and the Star of Life is much more prominent.

“We’ve got two with the new look now,” McDuffie said. “They do look good.”

Effingham County EMS enjoyed staff stability for several years but it recently started to lose a few employees to retirement and they are proving to be difficult to replace. It currently has three full-time openings.

“There is a shortage of paramedics in the state of Georgia,”McDuffie said. “People are just not getting into public safety and we are trying to figure out some new recruitments to get people interested because public safety does not have the best salaries in town.”

The entry-level salary of an EMT is comparable to that of a convenience store clerk.

“That’s hard for us to compete with when you have to go to school for one or two years to become a paramedic,” McDuffie said.

McDuffie, however, said it isn’t about the money for the people in her profession.

“You have to have a caring heart, compassion, a willingness to help other people,” she said.

— EMT certification costs $1,850 and requires 200 hours of training, classroom and clinical.

— EMT-A certification costs $1,375 and requires an additional 136 hours of training.

— EMT-P certification costs $7,122.50 and requires at least 1,112 training hours with 400 being clinical.

The total cost for attaining the highest level of certification is $10,347.50 and a minimum of 1,448 hours of schooling.

“We only hire at the advanced level — EMT-A,” McDuffie said. “That’s the requirement. About all the basic EMT can do is just drive.

“They can do some patient care but they don’t have the training like an advanced EMT.”

McDuffie recently asked the Effingham County Board of Commissioners for four more employees in addition to the three needed to fill current vacancies.

“We are running four 24-hour trucks and one 12-hour truck,” McDuffie said. “My goal is to have five 24-hour trucks with the new budget. With that, we will need four more employees.”

McDuffie expects more openings to development soon. She has 35 full-time employees.

“I still have the older staff and some are looking to retire at the end of the year,” she said. “That’s something we will have to address — the aging of the staff here and their replacements. I think they have hung on so long because they love their job.

“Why else would you keep working it?”

Cardiac technician Ken Kirby is Effingham County EMS’ elder statesman at 74. He’s been with the agency for 24 years.

“And his partner (Mindy Lamaak), she’s 65,” McDuffie said. “I know they are tired but they don’t want to give it up, either.”

There are a few things about the job EMS personnel could do without.

“We are no different than (other first responders) in that we are seeing an increase in mental health issues with patients and the drug overdoses,” McDuffie said. “We are not exempt from big-city problems. They are right here in our county.

“Mental health care is probably one of the weakest areas in the state of Georgia. It’s not just our county, though. It’s everywhere. A lack of mental health is something every state is dealing with.”

On a few recent calls, Effingham County EMS employees have endured verbal abuse, been spit on and kicked or punched.

“We’ve had more attacks on the medics in the last year than we’ve ever had,” McDuffie said. “We used to never have any issues or anybody treat the medics bad. There’s been an uptick of violence here in Effingham County and it’s been surprising.

“Luckily, we haven’t had anybody shot or stabbed but people have had things thrown at them and they’ve been kicked, bitten and hit.”