DOBSON — County emergency services personnel will have two years to get in shape, and new employees will start out physically able to perform the tasks associated with their jobs.
At Monday evening’s meeting of the Surry County Board of Commissioners, county commissioners voted unanimously to approve a fitness plan for the EMS department.
‘This is absolutely necessary to ensure the longevity of our people,” said EMS Director John Shelton. “We want to make sure we keep them.”
Shelton told commissioners the jobs of EMS personnel require much in the way of physical abilities, and an unfit employee can lead to injuries in the line of duty.
He noted on Saturday first responders had to hoist a 240-pound person who had fallen at Pilot Mountain State Park 40 feet, then transport the patient to a nearby ambulance. Other physically tasking requirements include working for extended periods of time in protective HAZMAT gear, among others.
“We have some patients in this county who weigh upwards of 700 pounds,” Shelton said.
Even without extenuating circumstances, the job of EMS personnel is physically tasking, and Shelton said he wants to ensure everybody in his department is fit for the task.
Shelton also noted his employees are aware of the coming change, and most will have no issue meeting the guidelines, which will include a physical abilities test. The test will evaluate employees on their ability to perform normal tasks they encounter each day.
That stated, those who can’t pass won’t be kicked to the curb.
“Our current employees will have two years to come into compliance,” noted Shelton.
After that, the employee would be either reassigned or his or her employment would be terminated.
Commissioner Larry Phillips asked if everything was in place to ensure employees have the means to get into shape.
“Do you have all the equipment you need at the gym?” asked Phillips. “You talked about their schedules and their diet affecting their nutrition. I know we can’t do anything about schedule, but can we help with diet?”
Shelton said the gym EMS personnel use is up to date, with all equipment maintained regularly.
“This will be interfaced with our employee wellness program,” explained Shelton. “The wellness program makes nutritional recommendations.”
The policy, which is to go into effect immediately, will also require employees who fail a physical abilities test to receive nutritional counseling or physical instruction to prepare them for a test retake.
“How does this affect the hiring process?” asked Phillips.
“They must take the test prior to hire,” explained Assistant County Manager Sandy Snow. “If they fail, they can retake the test in a month. If they fail that test they are ineligible to re-apply for one year.”
Shelton said the test, though not completely outlined yet, “will have everything to do with what they are doing (on the job).” There are also no height or weight requirements involved with the program.
Testing will take place annually once the program begins.
As part of the 2016-17 fiscal year’s budget, commissioners approved the replacement of two ambulance chassis.
Following Monday’s meeting, Shelton explained when an ambulance has hit the time when it must be replaced the “box,” or section in which the patient is transported, is removed from the chassis. That part is refurbished. Then the “box” is placed on a new chassis.
While two of these replacements were previously approved by commissioners, an accounting issue led the county to return more than $280,000 to the state for Medicaid reimbursement from 2011. The EMS department halted all capital expenditures in the wake of the take-back.
Shelton said one ambulance, which had more than 300,000 miles on it, required immediate attention, however. Repairs to the ambulance were to cost more than $10,000. Replacing the chassis would be a cost of nearly $100,000.
The “box” had already been refurbished, a matter which led to questions from Commissioner Larry Johnson.
“We ought to sacrifice somewhere,” said Johnson, referencing the $9,000 refurbishing project, which included repainting.
However, Shelton said that portion of the replacement was already being completed, leaving no ability for the board to cut costs from that angle.
Shelton recommended the county go ahead with the full replacement, and the board unanimously approved the request.
Additionally, the board approved Shelton’s request to move forward with the purchase of three on-board computer systems and mounting hardware for the systems, an expenditure of about $16,000.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.