Trying to save lives

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, March 31, 2016

Over the last few months, city leaders have been pondering ways to increase response times for patients who need an ambulance when the ones from Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi are tied up.

The discussion came to a head in January when a College Hill man had to wait 40 minutes for an ambulance after having a stroke.

Baptist provides Oxford’s ambulance service. There are three ambulances that run during the day and two in the evenings. If one of those ambulances is used to transfer a patient out of Oxford, that leaves one ambulance to cover the entire county.

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Baptist officials said they were fulfilling their contractual obligation to Oxford but would continue to monitor the situation and grow its ambulance services when they deemed it necessary.

In the meantime, Oxford Fire Department had a few openings with a handful of firefighters retiring recently and were in the process of starting to advertise for those positions when Chief Cary Sallis and other Oxford officials came up with an idea to kill two birds with one stone — hire paramedics who would also serve as firemen.

Currently, when an ambulance is not available, it’s the OFD that often responds to the scene to offer assistance until the ambulance can arrive.

“But all we can really do is CPR,” Sallis said.

There are a few currently employed firefighters inside the department who would like to attend the paramedic program at North West Mississippi Community College, which takes about 18 months to complete.

“We figured if we hired paramedics now we could get the ball rolling in that direction now,” Sallis said. “Many fire departments are moving toward their firefighters being paramedics as well.”

The paramedic’s first job would be a firefighter, Sallis said.

“If there’s a fire, he or she would be there fighting it,” he said. “But if someone is injured, or we responded to someone with a stroke or anaphylactic shock, the paramedic would be there to help the patient until the ambulance arrived.”

With OFD responding to fewer fires today than in past years, thanks to updated building codes and fire suppression systems in most buildings, Sallis said this was another way the fire department could help Oxford residents.

‘It’s just another way for us to give to the community,” he said Wednesday.

The fire department is not adding any new positions, just changing the qualifications for some of the ones that need to be filled to include the paramedic certification.

Anyone interested in applying for the firefighter/ paramedic position can visit and go to Jobs to learn more about the position.