Built from the ground up in 2011, Jackson County EMS keeps getting better

Jackson County EMS Chief Chris Johnson (left) is shown.

Through the hard work and dedication of many individuals, Jackson County EMS was established from the ground up in 2011 after the disbandment of Southeast Ohio EMS.
The new organization keeps getting better each year, and its leadership values the importance of working with other agencies across the state to represent the interests of third-service EMS departments through the Ohio EMS Chiefs Association.
Southeast Ohio EMS disbanded at the end of 2010, the department had previously served Lawrence, Athens and Jackson counties.
Chris Johnson, who serves as treasurer of OEMSCA and as the chief of Jackson County EMS, said building an EMS agency from the ground up was very challenging.
“It took many people working together to make this happen in such a short amount of time, but we did it,” he said. “Starting an ambulance service from the ground up in just a few months would not have been possible without the cooperation of government officials, administrative staff, employees and the community.”
Johnson said the county also formed the Jackson County Training Center, where Basic and Intermediate EMT courses are taught alongside other continuing education classes.
“We are coming up on our 10th anniversary for JCEMS and I could not be prouder of the dedicated and hard-working individuals that work so hard every day to make sure the citizens of Jackson County are safe,” he said.
Johnson said he believes being a member of OEMSCA is very valuable for his organization and all of the member agencies.
“Before OEMSCA, there wasn’t really a brain-storming group of EMS leaders that would get together and really be able to talk face-to-face about issues facing the different types of EMS agencies,” he said. “I would not be the leader I am today without OEMSCA. The networking that OEMSCA allows each member to have access to is just incredible. Being able to reach as many EMS leaders with an e-mail and to get different points of view is such a valuable tool.”
Johnson said his department had about 4,300 runs last year, including about 3,600 transports. The department has 47 employees on staff, including 23 basic EMTs, 6 intermediate EMTs and 18 paramedics. Of those employees, 18 are full-time and 29 are part-time. The agency runs four paramedics squads 24/7 across three stations. One squad is stationed in Wellston, with one stationed in Oak Hill and two more are stationed in the city of Jackson.
Johnson has personally been involved in EMS since 1989, and he said he has seen many changes in the field. He said his favorite part of the job is its unpredictability.
“Every day is different,” he said. “You’re not just going to do paperwork or crunch the numbers. You might be doing the schedule one minute and going to help for a car accident the next minute. I would not enjoy a job where I had to do the same thing over and over.”
Johnson said the biggest challenge of his job is balancing the political aspects while still making sure nothing interferes with providing great patient care.
“Everything else can be talked about and handled in a timely fashion, but patient care must always remain the number one priority,” he said.
Johnson said the biggest issue his agency is facing is finding and keeping employees.
“As a county service, we are still struggling to pay what the private EMS agencies are paying,” he said. “Half of our budget goes to salaries and it still isn’t enough to match what they are paying at private services. Yes, we offer benefits and insurance and sick time and vacation, but I find that the dollar-per-hour is usually the decision-maker in looking for employment.”
Johnson said improvements in technology have made it easier to provide great patient care.
“The new power load system is one of the best inventions,” he said. “It has not only helped employees but has improved patient safety also.”
The power load system helps take the strain off the backs of EMTs and also keeps patients safely strapped in during an ambulance ride.
Johnson also remarked on the importance of being able to directly transmit EKGs to the ER.
“It has saved so many lives and changed the way that we treat our patients,” he said.