Last Updated: Apr 27th, 2015 - 11:04:56

PG gets grant for fire, EMS
By Blake Belden, Staff Writer
Feb 3, 2014, 12:27

PRINCE GEORGE — Prince George Fire and EMS has been awarded a grant of more than $650,000 by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to hire six new full time firefighter medics.

The grant is part of the federal agency’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) awards program where they give money to United States localities in an effort to bring their emergency response efforts up to national industry standards determined by the National Fire Protection Association.

FEMA has awarded Prince George County, one of only three localities in Virginia to receive this year’s grant, with $655,860 to be split over two years to hire more firefighter personnel in the county.

The average response time for a Fire and EMS call in Prince George is 12 minutes, in comparison to the NFPA’s standards that a minimum of 10 firefighter personnel should respond to a scene within 10 minutes in a suburban area, according to Brad Owens, the director of Fire and EMS in Prince George County.

Currently, there are nine full-time employees in Prince George who are designated as EMS medics, who are spread out over two unit shifts every week, one 24-hour shift and one 12-hour shift. At any given time, there is at least one medic unit on call for emergency purposes, and between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., there are two medic units available along with an EMS shift supervisor, and then volunteers help out whenever they are available, Owens said.

“Our current system is really being stretched thin right now to meet the needs of the citizens,” Owens said before mentioning that volunteers have specifically requested that additional staff be put in place to help out with necessary emergency response services.

Owens added that full support from the county’s volunteers really helped the Fire and EMS department move forward with the grant application and boost a sense of cooperation within the current emergency response personnel in the county.

“It’s to the point where [volunteers are] tapping out. They can do only so much with the limited time that they have to be able to commit to. It’s going to help out with that,” Owens said.

The SAFER grant would allow for the county to transition to have two medic units on staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Owens said.

This would be a gradual transition, as the grant is awarded with the purpose of decreasing both fire response times and EMS response times. At first, the six new firefighter medics would serve a “dual function role” where they would either respond in an ambulance or a fire engine depending on the call that comes in, hence their title as both firefighter and medic, Owens said.

Therefore, if there is a limited number of volunteers available on any given day, the firefighter medics can help out wherever they are needed most.

“That’s adding to your overall response in terms of people that are on the [fire engine as well]. So now instead of taking four minutes to get that unit out the door, you know, it’s out the door within 60 seconds, so that’s going to reduce our response time to a lot of these calls,” Owens said.

Although Prince George Fire and EMS has  been awarded with the grant, after applying unsuccessfully the year before,  the Board of Supervisors must still elect to accept the grant, Owens said.

If the Board chooses to do so, the grant will provide base salary and benefits for six full-time firefighter medic positions (to be hired by May) for two years, and it would require that Prince George employ and fund these positions for an additional third year, according to county administrator Percy Ashcraft.

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