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By Christa Jennings
Senior Staff Writer
During last Tuesday evening’s 30-minute meeting, the County Commission approved moving forward and submitting the grant application for a county-wide ambulance to be based in Rockford.
EMA Director Sheldon Hutcherson presented the commission with the prepared grant application. With all commissioners present, the commission approved by majority vote to submit the grant application for the ambulance, with Commissioner Unzell Kelley abstaining.
The Rural Provider Equipment Grant Application submitted to the Alabama Council of Emergency Medical Services is shown to be for the Coosa County EMS Department, name pending.
In the “justification of need” portion of the application, the county states in part, “Coosa County is a 651 square mile county with a population of 10,387 located in central Alabama. Coosa County has no full-time ambulance service. The citizens of Coosa County have to rely on two volunteer EMS departments located in the northeast part of the county. Although these departments provide a valuable service and do an outstanding job, time is a factor in Emergency Medical Services. If a call for a medical emergency comes into 911 on the far western part of the county, it may take a long response time – up to 30 minutes or more.”
It goes on to state that another contributor to the problem is that the county does not have a hospital, meaning that patients must be transported to Coosa Valley Medical Center in Sylacauga or Russell Medical Center in Alexander City.
“Those two factors, response time and transport time, will usually exceed the Golden Hour, the 60 minutes to save a life,” the application reads. “Those factors alone justify a full-time ambulance service located in Rockford.”
The application also explains that if the grant is awarded, the County Commission plans to establish the Coosa County EMS Department “to be based and operated out of the Town of Rockford,” with the service being operated and maintained “solely by the Coosa County Commission.” All paramedics and EMT/drivers will be employed by the commission, according to the application.
The application also explains that the funding for the newly established EMS service will depend on local legislation that “will be voted on by the citizens of Coosa County in May 2022.” However, the latest report was that the matter would likely not be on the ballots until the November election.
That legislation, as previously discussed by the commission, will be to add a fee to all vehicle tags sold within the county.
In the application the commission also pledged or agreed to pay a 25% match of the grant funds, if awarded.
During the relatively short meeting, the commission also unanimously approved the county levies for alcohol licensing fees to remain as is with no changes for the year, appointing Byron King to the Stewartville Water Board Authority Board, new flooring for the revenue office to be paid out of capital improvements, painting the first floor hallway in the courthouse to be paid out of the capital improvement fund, and the annual state EMA agreement to receive money allocated to the county EMA, which Hutcherson said the county applies for and receives every year.
In other business, the commission also discussed the Safer Places Program, with no action taken on it at the meeting. Hutcherson presented the commission with the program guidelines and reviewed the history and information on the program.
He explained that the guidelines have now been approved and that the program allows for the use of safer places, ones which are not official shelters. He further explained that it would give citizens an option of a “safer place” to go to that might provide more safety than their residence, while not being an official approved storm shelter.
Hutcherson added that the program would remove liability from the county should anything happen, as citizens would use the facilities at their own risks. He reviewed the process and said that there is an application to be filled out and returned to the county EMA for any facilities to be used as a safer place during severe weather.
Additionally, he said since the safer places are not official storm shelters, they would not be required to be open during severe weather events. Instead, the facilities would operate on a volunteer basis regarding opening them and letting people in.
The Safer Places Program, which came about from Alabama Act 2021-165, is intended for the Alabama EMA to “develop [uniform] guidelines for the volunteer designation of safer place facilities throughout the state to protect individuals during severe weather events.”
The program guidelines, however, also include no guarantee of safety. The guidelines state, “No guarantee of safety is made. People may be severely injured or killed in any structure during a tornado or other extreme wind event, including facilities designated as Safer Places. The intent of the Safer Places Program is to provide better relative protection from the threat of severe weather than residents may otherwise have access to, especially for those residents who do not have access to a FEMA-rated community tornado saferoom.”
The guidelines also outline requirements for designated Safer Places, including signage that must be posted within the Safer Place and the minimum requirements of what the signage must include.
The program further reviews general facility guidelines, selecting the type of structure to use as a Safer Place, additional considerations, accessibility, and selecting the best available refuge area within the facility.
Once someone applies for a facility to be designated as a Safer Place, if approved then the facility owner will enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Coosa County Emergency Management Agency.
For more information regarding the Safer Places Program or to receive an application to apply for a Safer Place, contact Hutcherson at 256-935-9484 or via email to email@example.com.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Coosa County Commission will be held at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, March 8.