Columbia, SC-- After years of talks between city and county officials, nearly 200 Columbia-Richland firefighters are now trained to drive ambulances if necessary.
It all could mean the difference between life and death for a patient.
The announcement came Tuesday morning and it's another step in a growing partnership between the City of Columbia and Richland County.
"It's another service we're able to provide. Because ultimately, that's what our business is, is customer service," explains Kevin King. He's Interim Training Officer for the Medical Division of the Fire Department. He's also one of the firefighters trained to drive an ambulance and as an EMT. "It's been a lengthy process, because not only is it new material that you're learning on the treatment protocols of patients, you're learning the protocols for EMS. Not only for the driving, but where their equipment is, how their equipment operates," he says.
And while it may sound pretty technical, what it really means is more citizens helped and possibly more lives saved. "When protocol calls for two EMTs to be in the back with the patient, it used to be that we had to wait for another ambulance to get on site for somebody to drive that vehicle to the hospital. Now, when there's a fire engine on the site, one of the folks in the fire engine unit will be able to get in and start getting that ambulance toward the hospital," explains Richland County Councilman Jim Manning.
The project has been an important one to Manning and for Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins. "There are about 22 firefighters currently who are at an EMT level. We've got right now, boots on the street - about 170 - who, if needed, can drive an EMS unit," says Jenkins.
And it's one that eventually will become a requirement for all firefighters working in Richland County.
The fire department is not stopping with this announcement. By October, they expect to have another two dozen firefighters trained as EMTs, so they can better assist patients on the scene of an incident.