The Inside Story: Fire chief sounds the alarm on 'dangerous' dispute with ambulance company

By: Chris Thomas Email
By: Chris Thomas Email
A war of words between the Augusta Fire Department and Gold Cross just escalated into a formal call to make Augusta Fire a

A war of words between the Augusta Fire Department and Gold Cross just escalated into a formal call to make Augusta Fire a "secondary zone provider." (WRDW-TV)

News 12 First at Five / Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- There is a big fight between the Augusta Fire Department and Gold Cross Ambulance Service. Some are calling it a dangerous dispute that could impact your safety.

"This is bad. This is absolutely bad," said Dr. Phillip Coule, medical director for the Augusta Fire Department.

Gold Cross is asking the East Regional EMS Council to strip the Augusta Fire Department of its status as a primary provider of ambulance service in Augusta.

A war of words between the Augusta Fire Department and Gold Cross just escalated into a formal call to make Augusta Fire a "secondary zone provider."

"What does this mean for folks at home?" we asked Dr. Coule.

"What it means is less availability of ambulances," Coule said. "It is potentially dangerous."

Gold Cross claims Augusta "repeatedly failed to staff at least one of its two licensed ambulances." The fire department says it's all a smoke screen that amounts to a power grab.

"We could be sitting right there and the house two doors down could have a cardiac incident and we could not roll that ambulance out unless Gold Cross gave us permission," said Fire Chief Chris James.

That lit up the phone lines on our weekly radio segment on 96.3 KISS FM.

"The contract is horrible. It is the worst contract in the history of Augusta," said Charles Masters, president of the Augusta Firefighters Association.

He claims the contract has the city paying more than $1 million a year for service -- and there is a catch.

"It does not designate a specific number of emergency ambulances that are available for emergency calls at all times," James said.

"What about Columbia County? Are there any guaranteed ambulances?" we asked Chief James.

"They are guarantee five ambulances at all times," James replied.

The new fire chief sounded the alarm about the long-standing discrepancy.

"They are getting a little push-back, and it doesn't feel good," Masters said. "They don't like it. So what they are going to do is try to circumvent Augusta."

Chief James and Dr. Coule say they hope the public will speak out.

"Decreasing the availability of ambulances and making the city answer to the private company is just wrong," Coule said.

The East Regional EMS Council will discuss and decide action at a meeting on Thursday.

WHAT: Zoning sub-committee meeting
WHEN: 11 a.m.
WHAT: Full committee meeting
WHEN: 1 p.m.
WHERE: East Central Health District office, 1916 North Leg Road, Building D


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