After spending roughly 20 years in a nearly century-old structure, Hamilton County Emergency Medical Services may soon move its training center to a new facility at 3916 Volunteer Drive.
"It's just a very old building," EMS Director John Miller said in a phone call Wednesday, referring to the current training center off Ashmore Avenue in White Oak. "We've patched it up the best we could for years, and it's just beyond repair anymore."
The County Commission will decide next week whether to spend more than $3.1 million to purchase the new property on Volunteer Drive from Michael Giaccone. The county would use $3 million in federal pandemic relief funds to cover the cost of the acquisition, with the remainder coming from the EMS budget. The new facility will house district supervisors plus training, customer service and administrative staff. It will also give the system room to grow.
In an interview Wednesday, Hamilton County General Services Administrator Christy Cooper said all newly hired paramedics and emergency medical technicians must complete a mandatory training course.
"They have to be acclimated into our process and our operations," Cooper said.
The county purchased a driving simulator in late 2022 for $115,000 using federal pandemic relief dollars. In addition to EMS staff, the simulator will have the capability to cross-train other county employees on multiple types of heavy machinery, Cooper said.
It was also be a helpful training tool for younger staff, Miller said.
"The state has changed the rules so you can work on an ambulance when you're 19 right of high school," he said, "and it's hard to take a kid who's been driving Mom or Dad's car to school every day and then put them in a big heavy duty international ambulance with very little training."
The new driving simulator will make that transition easier officials said. The service also has a standalone ambulance box, which is detached from the truck chassis, that trainees use to accustom themselves to more realistic emergency scenarios. It also helps them memorize where medical supplies are stored on the vehicle officials said.
The new facility will offer a ton of additional space, Miller said, enabling EMS staff to place the ambulance box indoors alongside the new driving simulator.
"That part of our training will be enhanced greatly," he said.
Because Sequoyah Nuclear Plant is in Hamilton County, the federal government requires EMS shifts to complete a certain number of training hours every year, Miller said. EMS typically layers on additional training during those days, and because of space limitations at the existing center, the organization often holds those classes at alternative locations such as Bayside Baptist Church.
Cooper said the facility on Volunteer Drive is fully furnished and also has a kitchen, large conference rooms, two loading bays and a new HVAC system. The additional square footage could also enable the county to operate another ambulance station onsite, she said.
During his State of the County address March 31, Mayor Weston Wamp announced plans to launch a 17th ambulance in Hamilton County, which would help reduce response times.
The county recently raised its ambulance billing rates by approximately 10%, which Wamp has said would enable the county to boost pay enough to fully staff the additional ambulance service. The budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 includes an average 13% pay increase for EMS workers.
Cooper said getting that 17th ambulance on the road will depend on staffing.
"Everything depends on staffing," she noted. "We would love to have it up and running as soon as possible, but ... our biggest issue has been being able to hire enough people and keep enough people on staff."