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Deputy Chief Paul Tibbs displays a cardiac monitor in one of the Coffee County Emergency Medical Service’s fleet of ambulances. A similar unit is necessary to outfit a recently purchased ambulance. Once the monitor is purchased and installed, EMS will have nine emergency vehicles at the ready.

The Coffee County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) will be adding an extra ambulance to its fleet.

“We recently purchased a used ambulance for about $6,000,” said EMS Deputy Chief Paul Tibbs.

Typically, Tibbs said, a new ambulance costs more than $100,000.

Before the new ambulance officially joins the fleet, however, it will have to be outfitted with a cardiac monitor. When that happens, EMS will for the first time have nine operating ambulances. For years, Coffee County EMS has operated with eight units serving the four EMS stations in the county, with five units responding to medical emergencies.

Five of those units respond daily to medical emergencies.  The remaining three are used as a backups.

“We will use it if we have other units down for maintenance or if we have inclement weather requiring a four-wheel drive,” Tibbs said of the ninth unit.

“That will give us an extra four-wheel-drive ambulance to utilize in bad weather. We have a total of three four-wheel drives now, including the one we just purchased.”

The additional ambulance will also come in handy during the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, Bonner said. One EMS unit is stationed there every year during the four days of the festival.


Outfitting the new unit

EMS Chief Michael Bonner has requested $18,600 from Coffee County Budget and Finance Committee for the purchase of a cardiac monitor to be installed in the recently acquired ambulance.

The funds were approved by the budget and finance committee on Nov. 20.

A cardiac monitor will make the ambulance compliant with regulations in order for it to be a life-support unit, according to Tibbs.

A cardiac monitor displays the cardiac electrocardiogram (EKG) tracing. It allows for monitoring and displaying of cardiovascular pressures as required for patient diagnosis and treatment. Oxygen saturation of the arterial blood can also be monitored continuously.

A new cardiac monitor comes at a price of more than $35,000, Tibbs said. EMS plans to purchase a used one.

“Usually a re-certified cardiac monitor – not a new one – costs between $18,000 and $20,000,” he said. “A cardiac monitor is used to monitor the heart rhythm, which guides us in our treatment protocol.”  

Also, in case of ventricular fibrillation, which is a very serious cardiac rhythm disturbance, “we can shock the heart back into a more normal rhythm,” said Tibbs.

“The cardiac monitor also has a pacing feature, and for certain circumstances, we apply two large pads, and it fires electrical impulses to try to get the heart rate up,” Tibbs said.

The monitor can be used to check blood pressure, too.

“And we can look at multiple views of the heart with it, so we can see if the patient is having a heart attack,” he said.

The monitor is also used for pediatric patients.

“We have special accessories for pediatric care and that’s very important,” Tibbs said.


Growing call volume

The call volume EMS responds to has more than doubled since 2000, according to Bonner.

Last year, the number of calls exceeded 9,500. The trend remains the same this year.

With the call volume consistently increasing, Bonner told county officials earlier this year that the high number of calls would demand an additional ambulance, a new six-person crew and a new EMS station in Manchester in about three years.

According to Bonner, most of the calls come from residents covered by the Manchester Station. Calls from that station have grown from fewer than 350 per month in 2013 to more than 500 per month in 2018.

The four stations currently operating are the Manchester Station, the New Union Station, the Tullahoma-South Station and the Tullahoma-North Station.

Elena Cawley may be reached at ecawley@tullahomanews.com.