Harford County’s first county-owned ambulance went into service at 7 a.m. Sunday, and its crew handled their first call shortly before 8 a.m., according to the Harford County government.
County Executive Barry Glassman was on hand, and he announced over the county’s emergency radio system that he was “ commencing our county’s EMS surge unit initiative” and placing two ambulances into service.
A dispatcher responded, saying the units are “fully operational” as of 7 a.m.
The ambulances are designated County Medic 1 and County Medic 2, according to Glassman’s transmission, a recording of which was placed on the county’s Facebook page.
County Medic 1 is the only one operational, giving the county time to gain experience with the new system, government spokesperson Cindy Mumby said. County leaders have said previously that the second ambulance will go into operation in July.
The county’s “surge” ambulances are meant to augment Harford’s multiple volunteer fire and EMS companies that — until Sunday — provided all local emergency medical services with their volunteers and paid paramedics.
“We are here to supplement the quality services that they provide and be ready for Harford County’s needs into the future,” Mumby said.
Previously, all emergency medic units in the county have been operated by one of the local volunteer fire and EMS companies or by the Harford Volunteer Fire & EMS Foundation, which is run by the volunteer companies umbrella organization but also subsidized by county government.
Medic 1’s two-person crew, who are county employees, was dispatched to its first call at 7:49 a.m., Mumby said. The unit responded to a “respiratory distress” call in the 1800 block of Campbell Road in Fallston, and the crew took the patient to University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, Mumby said.
The location of the call is in the area served by the Fallston Volunteer Fire & Ambulance Company. The Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company, which has its Forest Hill station on East Jarrettsville Road, has been the “first due” in that area for the past few years since that station has the “closest available unit,” in accordance with county policy, David Williams, chief of Fallston fire company, said. The county dispatch center also notifies Fallston of calls in the area, Williams said.
The area covers High Point Road, starting at Cosner Road, continuing south to where it becomes Pleasantville Road and ending at Montford Drive, according to Williams.
“That’s what’s in the patient’s best interest,” Williams said of the closest unit policy. “That is what we’re trying to achieve, care that is in the patient’s best interest.”
The county medic unit was dispatched to the call on Campbell Road Sunday morning, as dispatchers knew Bel Air’s Forest Hill ambulance was handling another call, Mumby said.
County medics handled a second call Sunday afternoon at the Jarrettsville Volunteer Fire Company in the 3800 block of Federal Hill Road, Mumby said. The county ambulance responded to two calls within its first 24 hours.
The crew was placed on alert Monday morning regarding a call in the Whiteford area, but it was handled by Jarrettsville, Mumby said.
“The county medic unit is not going to be responding to every call,” she said, explaining that it is available as a backup in circumstances when “it’s needed to assist the patient as quickly as possible.”
Mumby said the county medic units are available to serve countywide, wherever they are needed.
The ambulances and crew are based at a county facility along Industry Lane in Forest Hill, where other emergency services units such as the HAZMAT unit are based, according to the Harford County Government Facebook page, which Mumby confirmed.
County Medic 1, which will be on duty 24/7, will be staffed by an eight-person crew, with two paramedics at a time on 12-hour shifts, according to Mumby.
County officials plan to build a facility for the ambulances on the Department of Emergency Services headquarters property on Ady Road in Forest Hill, Mumby said.
The surge units are part of a long-term plan, initiated by Glassman last year, to create a county-run EMS, as the local volunteer companies face increasing challenges with finding more volunteers as well as funding to pay paramedics who augment their volunteers. Demand for EMS has increased at the same time in recent years as the county’s population increases and more people age.
“Backing up the existing services is the reason that the county units are being put into service, to protect the citizens, to meet the increase in demand for services,” Mumby said.
Williams, of Fallston, said the county medics are “another resource in the mix — it’s an additional EMS entity in the county. We already have numerous EMS units in the county, now we have another one.”
He said the service had been available to county residents for just over 24 hours, as of Monday afternoon.
“It remains to be seen, whether or not this unit is going to be of great benefit in the manner in which it is being utilized at this time,” he said.
Williams said, during peak periods and there are no other units available because of high call volume, “the more units you have, the better off you are.”
This story is updated and corrected from an earlier version, when it was reported the county medic’s first call was a dual dispatch with the Fallston Volunteer Fire & Ambulance Company.