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Emergency services, more focus during budget retreat

Posted: February 15, 2018 3:49 p.m.
Updated: February 16, 2018 1:00 a.m.


By 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, members of Kershaw County Council had already spent two hours receiving an update on VisionKershaw 2030, a presentation by the Kershaw County School District and briefings from the county’s public works, utilities and IT departments.

By then, and inside a large room in the Kershaw County Economic Development Office space at the new Central Carolina Technical College (CCTC) building, it was time to focus on public safety. The report included fire services, EMS, animal control, the detention center and 911 communications. Intertwined with all of the reports -- including ones council would receive until lunchtime -- were discussions of moving certain departments into the space CCTC recently vacated in the lower level of the Kershaw County Government Center.

Those renovations will include a “hardening” of the government center, according to Assistant County Administrator Danny Templar. Templar said there will be an update to the center’s security/surveillance system, including the addition of a dedicated security office with personnel. Council’s chamber is now locked until 15 minutes before each meeting.

“Unfortunately, that’s where we’re at,” Templar said in response to Councilman Al Bozard’s expression of sadness that such measures are necessary.

County Administrator Vic Carpenter pointed out that most people don’t go to the government center to be happy.

“They’re going there because of an issue. They want to get in … and get out,” Carpenter said.

A few minutes later, County Central Communications Director Kirk Stropes talked about changes to 911 communications, including notes about a mobile app that could send pictures to 911 dispatchers and a possible statewide internet protocol-based 911 system. Such a system, Stropes said, could help in situations where Kershaw County dispatchers receive a call from an out-of-county, or even out-of-state number.

“We would be able to relay the call to the right area,” he said.

Stropes also reported that much of the equipment his department uses is out of date, with radio equipment, especially, at the “end of life” or past it. He said their vendor has been cannibalizing old units from other jurisdictions to help maintain Kershaw County’s inventory.

“We’re living on borrowed time,” Stropes said.

County Fire Marshal Keith Ray and his deputy, Scott Wiles, then talked about the restructuring of the county’s fire services as recommended by an ad hoc committee. Ray said the service’s 12 separate departments will be brought under one umbrella agency, with himself as the fire chief and Wiles as his deputy. Each of the department’s current chiefs will become captains, all of whom will report back to the county.

Ray also said the reconfigured agency will be implementing a new emergency medical response system that will allow the department to monitor and generate real-time call volume reports.

“There’ll be one phone number to call and then the call will be dispatched to the correct station,” Ray said, emphasizing the one-agency concept.

Wiles said the Westville and Cassatt stations will need their tankers -- both purchased in 1989 -- replaced. Wiles also predicted that with the growth in the West Wateree, there will be a need for 24/7 protection in the Blaney Fire Department’s area.

Next up was EMS Deputy Director Dennis Blanchard, who reported that Kershaw County EMS responded to more than 8,300 calls in 2017, 5,500 of which turned into transports. He also said some of the new technology EMS employed in 2017 saved eight lives.

“That’s eight people who got to spend more time with their families,” Blanchard said.

He also thanked council for acquiring new vehicles for EMS, cutting maintenance costs from about $100,000 per year to only $40,000 annually.

For the future, Blanchard reported that, by reshuffling some funds, he hopes to acquire bullet resistant vests for EMS personnel within the next six months.

“All first responders are doing to find themselves in situations like these,” he said, referring to domestic or other violent incidents where weapons might be present.

Blanchard also reported on an ongoing statewide shortage of paramedics, saying many are being persuaded to join private companies because of better pay. Another challenge he mentioned is a movement requiring trauma patients to be transported to “rated” trauma hospitals, of which there are only four in the state. Blanchard said KershawHealth is currently not a rated trauma center, but is looking at, possibly becoming a Level 4 (the lowest) center. He said transporting patients only to rated trauma centers will increase transport times and costs.

Blanchard also mentioned that Medicare now only considers two areas of the county to be rural: Mt. Pisgah and Liberty Hill; the rest of the county is considered rural. He said this could negatively impact the county due to lower Medicare reimbursements, but added that the proposed national budget may put 2 percent of that cut back into play.

Following Blanchard’s presentation, Templar returned to talk a little more about consolidating departments into the government center’s lower level, which he said represents about 10,000 square feet of additional space. One of the considerations, Templar said, is to have many of the departments on that level be those where personnel spend most of their time out of the office. He said the area includes a loading bay, which would be useful for EMS. He and Robert Keasler of county building maintenance said the upstairs will also be renovated as departments move around. Keasler said the current employee break room will be converted into county council’s executive session room while the break room will be moved to a larger area.

Keasler and Templar also said there are indications that growth projections for the county will affect nearly every department and facility from the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office to the county’s libraries.

The recreation, planning and zoning, and finance departments gave their reports before lunch, which council used to talk about growth. This was followed by a session on identifying major challenges. The balance of the afternoon was spent developing goals and prioritizing objectives.



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