Shelby County launches new ambulance service

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SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. -- Shelby County launched its new ambulance service Thursday – a move officials say was nearly half a century in the making.

It comes after the county decided to part ways with American Medical Response last fall, when the company nearly doubled its rates.

By February 10, people who live in the unincorporated parts of Shelby County, Arlington, Lakeland and Millington will see 12 new ambulances on the streets, all thanks to a multi-million-dollar project that combines ambulance services with the fire department.

"We truly, truly have some of the finest," said Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell. "These are people who are not only going to be well-trained as firefighters, but as medical specialists, EMTS, paramedics, which will be the future of here at the Shelby County Fire Department for years to come."

The county had just four months to prepare the new equipment and train employees to not just respond, but also get patients to emergency rooms.

"We only had about 16 weeks or so to launch this effort starting from zero to what you see today, and it’s been a tremendous effort," said Shelby County Fire Department Chief Alvin Benson.

County officials say it will cost taxpayers about $4 to $5 more a month in fees, but they expect even faster response times.

They’re promising a 10-minute 30-second response for 90 percent of calls in unincorporated Shelby County, and a 9-minute response time in the municipal areas.

Baptist Memorial Healthcare helped train the EMS workers for their new roles.

"We recognize that public safety is a major issue, and we want to make sure that Baptist is contributing to the county and to all of our government bodies in securing the welfare of citizens in Memphis and Shelby County," said Pastor Keith Norman.

As of Thursday, four ambulances are already on the streets.

The rest will be in commission by the end of next week.

Officials say they’re still looking to hire about 40 more paramedics.