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Tennessee Mother Pushes Mutual Aid Change

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A Nashville mother who lost her son in a fatal car crash is campaigning to make sure the nearest ambulance gets the call.

Lori Gregory told The Tennessean newspaper she wonders if sending one of two ambulances that were within three miles of the scene but across a county line would have made a difference when her 18-year-old son was killed in a traffic crash May 30.

Ambulances sent to an emergency might not be the ones stationed closest to the need, especially if they have to cross a county line.

A Metro Nashville Fire Department engine with trained first responders arrived within six minutes of the 911 call on May 30 when J.R. Ballentine, Gregory's son, and 21-year-old Shawna Edmundson died in a two-vehicle crash near the Davidson-Robertson County line, but a call log showed ambulances arrived between 10 and 15 minutes later.

"I just firmly feel all of us deserve the closest medical attention we can get," Gregory said. "It doesn't matter whose county's name is on the side."

Her first attempts to gain legislative support for the idea didn't gain much traction.

State Rep. Joshua Evans, R-Greenbrier, said he spoke with Gregory, but told her the issue is not one that should be handled by the state.

Evans is willing to work on a narrowly drawn automatic aid agreement for serious accidents on the stretch of highway where Gregory's son was killed. Evans, also a volunteer firefighter, said there have been several crashes in the area.

Steve Meador, a deputy chief of the Nashville Fire Department, said the six-minute response time is acceptable and noted that care was administered by the first responders. He said it's common for fire engines carrying first responders to arrive before ambulances.

Authorities say there are multiple reasons why the nearest ambulance might not be called, from incompatible two-way radio frequencies, to the lack of advanced life support services and unattended rural ambulance stations.

Rutherford County Emergency Management Director Tim Hooker said automatic mutual response would present a number of problems.

"It's not feasible," Hooker said of Gregory's proposal. "It's not wise. It's not cost-effective. It's not viable."

Ray Crouch, a fire management consultant with the University of Tennessee Municipal Technical Advisory Service, said there are legitimate concerns about automatic mutual aid, but problems with it are solvable.

Crouch helped write the 2004 mutual aid statute and said he originally hoped it would include a requirement for automatic cross-jurisdictional aid.

"We would have liked to take it to that extent, but many government agencies were not ready," Crouch said.

Gregory said she intends to conduct a rally at the state Capitol on Sept. 22 to garner support for automatically sending the closest help in emergencies.

___

Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com



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