DeKalb deploys rapid response units to cut emergency response time

DeKalb County Fire Rescue has deployed two of 11 rapid response vehicles to respond to emergencies. The other nine vehicles will be deployed by December 2019.

In its quest to reduce response times and maintenance and operating costs, DeKalb County Fire Rescue Department has deployed the first two of 11 rapid response vehicles to respond to emergency medical and fire suppression calls.

The county says the units were added after a successful year-long pilot program, and that the additional nine vehicles will be deployed around the county by December 2019.

Michael Thurmond

Michael Thurmond

County CEO Michael Thurmond said DeKalb is building a state-of-the-art emergency response and transport system.

"These vehicles will be an essential component in responding to all non-fire emergency calls in a timely manner,” he said April 18.

The rapid response vehicles, which cost about $200,000 each, were purchased with funds from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) approved by taxpayers in 2017. ­They feature water and pumping capabilities and various emergency response equipment and medical supplies and are smaller and less expensive to operate than larger fire trucks.  

The first two units are stationed at Fire Station 14 on Covington Highway in Lithonia, and Fire Station 24 on Redan Road in Stone Mountain.

Each unit is staffed by two DeKalb County firefighters who are certified emergency medical technicians trained to stabilize patients including treating conditions such as major bleeding that require immediate lifesaving actions.

DeKalb County operates an integrated service delivery system in which DeKalb firefighters are the first to respond to a medical emergency until an ambulance arrives.

All county firefighters are certified emergency medical technicians, and many are certified paramedics, and the county says its highly trained firefighters are able to provide the same level of care and have the same equipment and resources as an ambulance, ensuring that care is started at the earliest interaction with a patient.

In 2017, the county developed a prototype of the rapid response vehicle to measure the impact that the smaller unit would have on reducing response times and improving service levels. The county says the rapid response vehicle proved effective during the pilot program, improving average response time by 26 percent and reducing by 14 percent the need to use full-sized fire apparatus.   

A total of $2 million in SPLOST funding was allocated for 10 response units. Each vehicle costs approximately $200,000, which includes the truck, upgrades and equipment.  

In total, the fire department will get more than $47 million in SPLOST funding to purchase equipment and rebuild fire stations. To date, the county has used $3.5 million in SPLOST funding to purchase vehicles and 313 public safety radios.