Response to daytime emergencies in the city of Rhome might soon get faster.
By a 4-1 vote, the city council Monday night approved a motion to offer the position of a full-time EMS/first responder position to Robert Pratt, current chief of the Rhome Volunteer Fire Department. Pratt must pass a physical fitness test and a background check before the hiring is official.
“This decision was a vote for the people who live in the Rhome area and call 911 for help,” said council member Michelle Pittman, who voted for the measure. “The council worked together to address the real issues at hand. I am pleased to have been a part of helping the people in our area with my vote.”
Pittman is also a member of the Rhome Volunteer Fire Department. She said improving emergency response time and coverage will be a group effort.
“It takes the support and involvement of many people working together toward the common goal,” Pittman added. “Like the residents in West, it takes the assistance of many people working together despite differences. The decision to hire a qualified first responder is one step toward a bigger goal of helping people when they need it most.”
After receiving several applications, the council narrowed down the choice to three final interviews. They wrapped up their interviews Monday night, and followed it with a motion to hire Pratt.
“Everyone we interviewed was a good candidate,” said Mayor Chris Moore. “Everyone had good qualifications.”
Moore, who also serves as assistant fire chief, said Pratt has always been devoted to EMS service.
“(Pratt) has been around since he was a kid on the volunteer fire department,” Moore said. “But EMS is all he’s ever done on the paid side. He’s been with the fire department a long time, but EMS is all he’s wanted to do. His EMS background will help.”
Pratt currently works for Carter Blood Care as a phlebotomist, drawing blood from donors.
The full-time EMS/first responder will earn a salary ranging from $30,000 to $35,000. He will be stationed at the fire hall from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. He will drive the squad vehicle to emergency calls and will serve in that capacity when responding to calls.
Moore said he’d like to see the position up and running within a month’s time.
Council member Jo Ann Wilson cast the lone dissenting vote.
“We’ve been advised by our city auditor that our money should not be spent on that,” Wilson said. “And for whatever reason it is going forward.
“I don’t think we are financially in a position to hire anyone at this point. I’m not saying we don’t need it, but we have to do what our budget allows.”
“It was budgeted for in our last budget,” Moore countered. “And we’re almost through this budget period and coming up on the next. When it comes up again, we’ll sit down and work it out and make sure we pay for it.
“I think right now we’re OK. We just need to be mindful what we spend money on.”
Wilson argued that Wise County Medics already cover Rhome adequately.
“Are we selling Wise County EMS short?” Wilson asked. “I feel Wise County EMS already does a good job.”
“We’re not taking over or getting rid of the service Wise County Medics provide,” Moore said. “We will not be transporting patients. We are not running an ambulance. This is a supplement. We run a lot of medical calls. This is just to improve our response time in the day – during that time is when all the schools are in session, all the businesses in town are open and more people are on the roads.”
The implementation of the new position might be a work in progress.
“It’s new,” Moore said. “Were starting from scratch. And if we make some mistakes we’ll try to fix them. We’re not perfect. We’re just trying to make things better for our citizens.”