Sullivan Commission approves bond issue for new EMS stations

J. H. Osborne • Oct 20, 2019 at 11:30 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County is set to go forward with a major upgrade to its emergency medical service. Last week, the Sullivan County Commission OK’d borrowing $3.9 million to pay for building three new Sullivan County EMS stations and remodeling a fourth building.

The goal: reduce response times. It also will improve operational efficiency, and EMS Director Gary Mayes believes it will be a valuable tool for employee recruitment and retention.

The plan will replace two stations, which sit on land leased by the county, with three new stations on land owned by the county. The reason it will take three stations to replace two is based on a strategy developed by mapping all 911 calls answered by the agency and comparing that information with which current stations answered them.

Sullivan County EMS runs approximately 29,000 emergency and convalescent calls per year. That’s the total for the agency’s current six stations: Hickory Tree; Bluff City/Piney Flats; Blountville; Indian Path; Wilcox Drive (near that road’s intersection with Industry Drive), and Colonial Heights. The Wilcox Drive location is Station 4 — and it runs approximately 11,000 of those 29,000 total calls answered by the agency each year.

Why? It covers a wide, densely-populated geographic area.

It’s also on leased land and the lease is about to expire. That’s the fact that got much of the ball rolling on the upgrade of the EMS’ presence countywide. The station that serves Bluff City/Piney Flats also is on leased land.

The county purchased a warehouse on Wilcox Court with the original intent of moving Station 4 there. But earlier this year the commission agreed to hire an architectural firm to look at the option to build three new stations and remodel the warehouse as well. Maps created by the city of Kingsport’s staff, using 911 call data, gave EMS officials and county commissioners a clearer picture of where stations would best be located based on call volume.

The effort was moved forward when the city of Bristol, Tennessee, donated a parcel of land to the county, to be used to build a new EMS station to serve the Bluff City/Piney Flats area. The lot is less than one mile from the current station and barely inside the city, Mayes said. The city of Kingsport owns a parcel of land off Gibson Mill Road near East Stone Drive — which the call-mapping indicated would be a good location for a new station. The Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen is expected to vote next month on whether to donate that land to the county for construction of an EMS station.

A new station will be built adjoining the Sullivan County Health Department at the corner of East Sullivan Street and Wilcox Drive. The large geographic area now served by Station 4 alone will be served by it and the new station on Gibson Mill Road. The Gibson Mill Road station will have a large space for monthly training sessions.

The warehouse on Wilcox Court will become a station devoted to answering all convalescent calls, as well as acting as a central storage location for all EMS stations. Currently, EMS materials are stored in a section of the old County Home in Blountville.

There is money in the county’s budget to cover the debt service on the $3.9 million bond issue. The goal is to put the projects out to bid by the end of November and begin construction in early 2020. Construction should be completed by next fall, Mayes said, if all goes well.

More about Sullivan County EMS:

The agency is Class “A” licensed by the Tennessee Department of Health.

It has 132 employees.

Staff work either 24-hour shifts or 12-hour shifts.

It has a $7.5 million budget, with revenues of $7.65 million.

Its fleet consists of 21 units.