Depending on who you ask, Jackson County is either leaving coverage gaps for ambulance services or it’s building its new EMS station in a spot that will serve a more densely-populated area.
Either way, the discussion about a new EMS station in West Jackson got tense on Thursday during a town hall meeting hosted by county commissioner Bruce Yates.
Yates, who represents West Jackson, favors building a new EMS station on Lewis Braselton Blvd. — just a short distance from the existing ambulance station on nearby Zion Church Road. Before moving to an old house several years ago, the ambulance was stationed at the West Jackson Fire Department.
The District 3 commissioner also wants to move the Jefferson EMS station — located behind the county’s administrative offices — to a former registration office used by the Jackson County School System. That facility is on Ga. Hwy. 11 (Winder Highway), next to Jackson County Comprehensive High School.
Moving the Jefferson EMS station would fill a coverage gap in West Jackson, while offering more services in that part of the county, Yates has said. He also contends that with more people living in West Jackson, it should get some of the same services as East Jackson and Jefferson — such as additional EMS coverage, a satellite health department and trash compactor site.
But former county commission chairman Jerry Waddell disagreed with Yates’ support to build a new EMS station on Lewis Braselton Blvd.
Waddell served on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners from 1993 to 2000, when the county studied where to build its future EMS stations, he said. The county owns land on Ga. Hwy. 124, near Boone Road.
At issue is a recommendation from the American Heart Association that ambulances be located in spots that would allow them to respond to heart attack patients within eight minutes. That roughly amounts to a five-mile radius around each EMS station.
The new EMS station on Lewis Braselton Blvd. shifts that imaginary five-mile radius further west and into larger portions of Barrow, Hall and Gwinnett counties. By doing that, it also creates a coverage gap around Traditions of Braselton, West Jackson Middle School and Gum Springs Elementary School.
“It’s about 3,000 people that’s not in a coverage area,” Waddell said. “Who made this decision?”
Yates said commissioners agreed to build on a five-acre spot on Lewis Braselton Blvd. because it was donated to the county for a future EMS station. The BOC named a contractor for the project in May.
Waddell pressed Yates to explain why the county is moving the EMS station, given that Jackson County already had land elsewhere in West Jackson. Yates said the Lewis Braselton Blvd. location would provide access to more citizens.
Yates then shifted the focus on the EMS station’s location to construction of the facility. He explained that the topic could be addressed later during the town hall meeting, but that didn’t happen.
Instead, several people approached Yates after the meeting and continued to question building an ambulance station on Lewis Braselton Blvd. — leaving a coverage gap near two large schools and subdivisions.
Yates told the group his approach — including relocating the Jefferson EMS station near JCCHS — would “balance services” in West Jackson. He also told made a point to a reporter that the plan was recommended by Jackson County staff.
Prior to Waddell speaking, county manager Kevin Poe read from a document outlining construction progress on the West Jackson EMS station.
Keith Hayes Construction was awarded the $631,000 bid in May to build the facility on Lewis Braselton Blvd. So far, about $200,000 has been spent on the project — mostly to design a prototype building that will be used with the West Jackson EMS station, along with two others in the county, according to Poe.
The construction company has started work on the foundation of the West Jackson EMS station, he added.