Athens County EMS faces unique challenges in two-college jurisdiction

Two Athens County EMS ambulances are shown

For Athens County EMS, having two colleges in its jurisdiction brings a youthful, vibrant atmosphere while also presenting unique challenges.

Chief Rick Callebs, who has held his position since April 2012, said the agency had about 10,000 requests for service last year. The department features 71 employees, of which 42 are full-time. This includes 46 paramedics, 23 EMTs an administrative assistant and a physician medical director.

The department has 11 stocked vehicles with either six or seven staffed daily. The agency operates from five different stations across the county in Athens, Coolville, Glouster, Nelsonville and Albany.

Callebs said Athens County is unique for many reasons, but one of the major reasons is because of its geographic location.

“We are situated between the Hocking Hills and the Ohio River and are home to two colleges, Ohio University in Athens and Hocking College in Nelsonville,” he said.

One of the bigger challenges includes covering all OU football and basketball games under an exclusive contract. OU is a Division I school, so he said covering a home football game at Peden Stadium represents a big challenge.

“We deploy multiple walking medic crews, a dedicated ambulance and crew for the football teams, ambulances staged outside the venue for transport and a dedicated supervisor to coordinate the event,” he said.
Callebs said the calendar is also full of spring festivals and outdoor concerts that attract thousands. Athens also features the international renowned Athens Halloween Block Party that brings about 20,000 people to the area in late October.

“Our agency partners with the Hocking College EMT and Paramedic training programs to provide clinical ride-time experience and we have similar relationships with the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and the Post-graduate Athletic Training Program,” he said. “Future physicians ride at our busiest stations alongside the paramedic crews as part of their clinical experience.”

Callebs said Athens County EMS is a busy place to work.

“We average 25-30 calls a day with six trucks,” he said. “We are 9-1-1 only, all advanced life support service, with no long-distance, inter-facility transports. A recent pay raise makes use one of the highest-paid EMS agencies in southeastern Ohio.”

Callebs said he values his department’s membership in the Ohio EMS Chiefs Association.

“Third service EMS never had a unified political voice in state government until OEMSCA was formed,” he said. “It’s great to have a seat at the table on EMS subcommittees and the Ohio EMS, Fire and Medical Transportation Board.”

Callebs said OEMSCA offers various networking opportunities.

“If I have a problem, it’s very likely that other EMS chiefs have experienced the same issue and can offer advice and counseling,” he said. “We share policies, goals, ideas, bid specs and other technical and operational data that keeps everyone from reinventing the wheel.” A lot of friendships have developed through OEMSCA membership, because, at the end of the day, we’re all EMS people who chose this unique career path. That’s common ground for enjoying a cup of coffee or eating breakfast together and just catching up.”

Callebs said EMS billing, recruiting and retaining quality employees and the abuse and misuse of the EMS system are among the key issues Ohio EMS departments are dealing with. He said his favorite part of the job is helping new employees grow into the job.

“I also enjoy working with other agencies on large special events, trying to be at the forefront on the latest developments with new equipment, working on our (soon to be built) new Athens EMS station and central administration offices and developing five and ten-year goals for our office.”

Callebs said new products and technology are helpful but said some of the best and newest equipment tends to be “horrifically expensive.”

“Third-service EMS agencies do not usually qualify for the bulk of the federal grant money that is routinely given to fire departments,” he said. “Budget issues prevent us from jumping on every new thing that comes along.”

Callebs said he is pleased with how things are going, but he said it’s important to continue to improve and to keep long-term goals in mind.

“I would like to get our new Athens EMS station and administrative office complex built and operational. This is a $2.2 million project that includes a larger training room, bay space for eight ambulances, individual bunk rooms for EMS crews and an administrative office area that will consolidate three facilities into one,” he said. “We are hoping to be operational in the summer of 2020.”

Callebs said the department has a strong preventative maintenance program that regularly replaces front-line ambulances.

“This needs to continue,” he said. “We did a fleet-wide Stryker power-load conversion in 2013 and have the power load cots and trolley system along with the Stryker stair chairs. I’d highly recommend that to all departments.”
Callebs also said he hopes to purchase additional equipment and eventually convert the workforce over to all full-time.

“We also hope to construct a sixth EMS station east of Athens along US 50,” he said, adding that no timeline has been implemented for the goal.