DUNWOODY, Ga. — In their latest efforts to form their own ambulance service zone — apart from much of the rest of DeKalb County — Dunwoody city officials presented their case to the Region 3 EMS Council.

The effort paid off to some extent when the council voted to revive a special panel to keep tabs on ambulance service in the area.

State Rep. Mike Wilensky, who accompanied the group, spoke first at the Aug. 8 meeting held in Riverdale. Wilensky said he came because constituents reached out to him saying this was a critical issue for their city. He asked the council to consider allowing a separate zone for Dunwoody and other cities north of Interstate 285. 

Wilensky said that in conversations with officials from the Department of Public Health he was told one of the keys for an efficient ambulance zone is for all regions to be on the same 911 call service. DeKalb County is one ambulance zone but has multiple different call services for different cities.

Johns Creek, Brookhaven, Sandy Springs and Dunwoody all have the same 911 call center, Chattahoochee River 911 Authority or Chatcomm. Currently, there is still a transfer process for ambulance calls to DeKalb’s E911 service, which adds an additional step in the process of dispatching an ambulance. Dunwoody has advocated for a separate ambulance coverage area north of I-285 since the beginning of this process, and ambulance zones are not bound to county lines.

Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal asked the council to reconstitute a special ad hoc EMS committee, so that it could continue issuing reports to the regional council about ambulance service. 

“They are a mediator between the county and the city,” Shortal said. “They don’t take sides. They are a neutral mediator, so they have an open view. I would like them to continue until the EMS (request for proposal) is signed and fully implemented.”

Dunwoody was assigned its own special ad hoc EMS committee a year ago in response to slow ambulance response times. The city later signed an agreement with DeKalb County to make substantial improvements to EMS service in the city. 

During the ad hoc committee’s last meeting on July 18, it voted to suspend all future meetings. The decision to dissolve was rendered because the county had demonstrated enough improvement to fulfill the council’s purpose, said Rich Elliott, a committee member and Deputy Fire Chief of Clayton County.

That decision prompted Dunwoody City Councilwoman Lynn Deutsch to say that the city was, “Back to the beginning.” 

The EMS council voted to re-form the ad hoc committee and have it report back to the regional council every six months. The first report will be at the February 2020 regional council meeting.

Much of Dunwoody and the rest of DeKalb’s future EMS service will depend on the next contract with an ambulance service provider. Fire Chief Darnell Fullum said the current contract with American Medical Response will be extended through the end of the year. A county evaluation committee will recommend at future provider to county CEO Mike Thurmond and the Board of Commissioners. 

The recommendation is expected by Aug. 31, Fullum said, though originally the board was expected to see a recommendation in June.

The regional council did not address the issue of cities north of I-285 to accepting bids for their own ambulance provider.

Shortal said he expects to meet in the next week with Thurmond to discuss the city’s contract for EMS service with DeKalb County. Part of the contract, signed last fall, includes a requirement that EMS arrives on scene of life-threatening calls in 9 minutes or less for 90 percent calls and 15 minutes or less for non-life-threatening calls. 

The city sent a resolution to DeKalb County in late July stating the benchmarks have not been met for any monthly report since November, despite county efforts to improve service. DeKalb County has argued it has added an ambulance to each of three fire stations in the city and an additional unit for peak hours.

Records for June show an ambulance responded in 13 minutes or less for 90 percent of life-threatening calls in Dunwoody. 

However, first responder times — which can include fire rescue — in June were 8 minutes 50 seconds or less for the same benchmark, which county officials have stated meets the contract requirement.

Fullum told Dunwoody City Council members in a recent private meeting that given the county’s current resources, it will not be able to meet the 9 minute requirement set in the contract without drawing significant resources away from the rest of the county. City Councilman Terry Nall said this demonstrates why Dunwoody needs a separate zone.

“Our geographic size is smaller,” Nall said. “But our daytime population of 120,000 concentrated people makes it a very large and critical zone. But it also makes it viable from an economic perspective.

“We made the request May of 2018 for a new ambulance zone, and they (Region 3 EMS Council) have yet to rule on that,” Nall said.

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