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New equipment keeps EMS on cutting edge
Effingham EMS
Stationed in their new $200,000 ambulance, paramedics Shannon Hardy (left) and Toni Broussard (right) show what it’s like to treat a patient in repiratory distress. The patient is portrayed by coworker Chris Camilleri. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

SPRINGFIELD — Effingham County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) stays sharp because it doesn’t cut corners.

The Effingham County Board of Commission strives to provide the agency with everything it needs to save lives.

“The county has been good about keeping us up to date with equipment and stuff,” EMS Director Wanda McDuffie said.

Last year, McDuffie’s agency received new hydraulic stretchers and Lund Hospital Cardiac Arrest System (LUCAS) devices. LUCAS devices provide external cardiac compression to patients suffering cardiac arrest. 

By providing consistent, high-quality chest compressions, the LUCAS 3 can free up personnel to focus on other critical emergency patient care such as defibrillation intubation, IV placement and transportation.

 The latest equipment addition for EMS is a fully stocked Ford F-450 ambulance it received last December. Including its medical equipment, it cost $200,000.

“It’s not the Cadillac  version but it’s not the base model,” McDuffie said.

The new ambulance is equipped with a backup camera, which Paramedic Shannon Hardy finds handy.

“A lot of people don’t use it but I like it,” she said. “We’ve never had that before. This is our first one.”

McDuffie said it won’t be the last.

“We’re trying to put that on all the trucks as we order them,” McDuffie said. 

Before receiving the new ambulance, Hardy and shift mate Toni Broussard, also a paramedic, were assigned to the oldest model in the EMS fleet.

 “We had over 200,000 miles on it,” Broussard said.

“We’ve been getting about five years out of them,” McDuffie added. “We put about 60,000 miles a year on each truck. That’s cold starts and hard finishes.”

Hardy and Broussard want it known that they aren’t just ambulance drivers.

“They are highly trained medical professionals,” McDuffie said. 

Hardy and Broussard treat the new machine as if it is their own.

“We have to,” Broussard said. “You set it up the way you want it as far as where your equipment is and all. And each shift is required to clean it and get it ready for the next shift. We are supposed to put gas in it and have it stocked back up. They get a washing everyday, too, unless it is under 40 degrees.”

Hardy and Broussard have been known to ignore the temperature guideline. They wax the vehicle, too.

Last year, EMS responded to approximately 6,500 calls, about 200 more than in 2017 and 6,000 more than when the agency started in 1979.

“Right now, we are fortunate. We are maintaining our own,” McDuffie said. “The national average is one ambulance for every 10,000 to 12,000 people. We are right at the national average right now.

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget projects Effingham County’s population will be 76,320 in 2030. The Coastal Regional Commission’s 2030 population projection is 121,000.

“As the county continues to grow, we will have to look at more resources,” McDuffie said. “I’m thinking next year we will probably have to add that sixth truck just to meet the demands.”

A sixth ambulance would require the addition of a minimum of four employees. That would allow for an additional 12 hours of coverage.

“If we do another 24-hour truck, we will need six people,” McDuffie said.

Because of growing demands, EMS created a new position to help McDuffie. Bob Summers, a former shift supervisor, has been serving as operations manager since the end of March.

“We got so busy riding calls that the (three) shift supervisors didn’t have time to do some of the day-to-day stuff and I was having to do it, which didn’t give me enough time to do what I needed to be doing as the director,” McDuffie said. “Now that he is here, he keeps up with the maintenance on the trucks, ordering supplies and keeping up with the schedule and that kind of stuff. That leaves me focused on the billing side of EMS and making sure that we are up to date on rules and regulation.

“It also gives me more time to interact with my people and see that they are doing.”

EMS will celebrate its growth and achievements later this year.

“This is our 40th anniversary,” McDuffie said. “If all goes well, we are going to do a big anniversary thing in September. September 12 is what we are hoping for.

“We are waiting for the budget to be approved to see how much money we’ve got.”

EMS will share the celebration with the Effingham County E-911 Center, which is in its 10th year.

Hardy appreciates the level of teamwork shown with E-911 and other Effingham County first responders. She has worked in other areas.

“This county is way  above the others,” she said. “Everybody helps each other and that is totally different than other counties. I was shocked at the level of support that we have from firefighters, deputies and the community.

“... It’s wonderful.”