Richland County firefighters might drive ambulances

Columbia officials are asking that city firefighters be allowed to drive Richland County ambulances during critical-care emergencies.

The request Wednesday follows the death of a 3-year-old boy Sept. 17 whose ambulance was delayed by the wait for a qualified driver.

Firefighters at the scene and their chaplain expressed concern after the boy's death about the wait. Some talked to The State newspaper for a Sunday story.

City Council members agree that firefighters need to be able to drive ambulances at times, even though Coroner Gary Watts said getting to the hospital earlier would not have saved Jadan Myers-Pugh.

The idea is a potential lifesaver, city leaders said.

"We want to see this happen," Mayor Bob Coble said.

Some County Council members agree the change makes sense.

"If people are trained, I can't think of any reason why they wouldn't be permitted to do that," Councilman Greg Pearce said.

Council chairman Paul Livingston said, "I can't see any reason that anybody would object" if firefighters acquire the skills to handle ambulances.

It is unclear how quickly the extra training and related steps could be taken by financially squeezed City Hall. And it's unclear how much extra training firefighters would need.

City officials are asking for an estimate on how much the move would cost and how long it would take to make the idea reality.

Their plan is that city firefighters meet the same standards as county emergency medical workers.

"We're in their house," city public safety director Michael King said. "We've got to follow those rules. We're asking them to let us know what it takes."

Efforts to reach county emergency medical services officials for comment were unsuccessful. County spokeswoman Stephany Snowden said further analysis of the plan is needed to answer city officials' questions.

As many as 164 of 391 city firefighters could qualify for the dual roles, fire chief Bradley Anderson said. They are experienced, have commercial drivers licenses and are used to driving trucks and other emergency vehicles, he said.

Firefighters arrived at the scene first and treated Jadan until county emergency medical workers came.

The wait before taking the child to the hospital less than a mile away occurred because the two-member medical crew was focused on caring for him, requiring another ambulance to be called so a third medic could drive the vehicle to the hospital.

Watts has ruled that the four-minute delay did not contribute to the boy's death, saying the child was dead already from swine flu when his mothered discovered him unconscious in his room. Jadan also suffered from sickle-cell anemia.

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