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DeKalb EMTs Back On The Job

About 60 unemployed emergency medical technicians are back on the job in DeKalb County.

The county's new ambulance provider, Rural/Metro, hired a total of 135 workers, including about 60 former Care Ambulance employees, Rural/Metro general manager Reg James told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday.

The county terminated its contract with Care last month, forcing the ambulance company to lay off its 123 workers.

On Tuesday, Rural/Metro took over service in DeKalb. The county signed a yearlong contract with Rural/Metro last week.

"We invited all Care employees to interview, understanding that was their livelihood they lost," James said. "Over the weekend, we tested them and did skills checks with field training officers to verify their knowledge."

The ambulance company also conducted drug tests and background checks.

In addition to about 60 former Care EMTs, Rural/Metro hired 75 other workers, including paramedics and support staff.

Rural/Metro is looking to hire an additional 10 full-time paramedics. Until those spots are filled, the company is relying on part-time help, James said.

The majority of Care's employees were EMTs. Rural/Metro plans to staff ambulances with an EMT and a paramedic, which is the highest certification in Georgia because they can supply advanced life support.

Rural/Metro is now running 10 ambulances, but it could put as many as 18 on the road. DeKalb Fire and Rescue runs an additional 24 ambulances.

"We're working with the county over the first 30 days to see what the county's needs are," James said.

Shelia Edwards, a spokeswoman for DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis, said there "was a seamless transition" when Rural/Metro took over for Care at midnight Tuesday.

Rural/Metro is deploying ambulances from fire stations and searching for an office to house its administrative staff and some of its fleet. It is negotiating a temporary lease of Care's office, said Doug Tisdale, Care's vice president.

No taxpayer money will go to Rural/Metro. Patients pay fees, which are set by the County Commission, for ambulance service. Those fees are expected to generate $8.5 million for the year, according to Rural/Metro.

Care was slated to work in DeKalb until March 2011, but the county abruptly terminated its contract last month, citing complaints of at least three delayed response times. Tisdale has said he is only aware of one complaint: a 22-minute response to a teenage soccer player with a head injury. An internal investigation into the case found several county dispatchers were at fault for entering incomplete information into the computer system and Care crews violated policy for using Google to look up an address.

County officials have been reluctant to identify the other calls, citing potential legal action from Care.

Care has offered to transfer the remaining laid-off workers to other Care sites, but the closest is in Columbus, Tisdale said.


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