By

By Angie Mayes

Mt. Juliet News Correspondent

Mt. Juliet fire department leaders took exception to Mayor Ed Hagerty’s comments about the lack of response by the Fire Department of Mt. Juliet to a 911 call at his home earlier in May.

Fire Chief Jamie Luffman and Deputy Chief Chris Allen responded to his comments during the May 10 meeting.

During the meeting, Hagerty recounted how he called 911 to get help with a relative and only the Wilson Emergency Management Agency showed up to the call.

Hagerty is a longtime opponent to a proposed property tax increase that would earmark 39 cents to the fire department.

“I do want to comment further, because there’s been quite a bit of discussion about this,” Hagerty said. “Quite frankly, I’ve been a very vocal opponent against this. One primary reason that I have repeated often is we do not have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem.”

Hagerty then spoke about the 911 call and response.

“The Fire Department of Mt. Juliet did not come when called,” Hagerty said. “They were not on another call. I checked. Given the ranker and emotion of this tax discussion, I don’t even want to speculate why the city of Mt. Juliet [fire department] did not come when called.”

Allen said Thursday he did not appreciate the implication and was upset “politics had been brought into that conversation.”

“For someone who has been in fire services for 33 years, it’s pretty disheartening and kind of a punch to the gut,” Allen said. “Politics aside, we go to someone who needs help.”

“Things shouldn’t go that low. To be accused of personally not responding to a call, it’s disgusting. It’s ironic, because the mayor’s been a frequent critic of ours for running medical calls to begin with.”

Allen said when the fire department first entered service six years ago, “We ran every medical call. Part of it was to learn the city. Part of it was due to dispatch in the county.”

All 911 calls go to the Wilson County dispatchers before they are transferred to a particular agency.

“Probably three years ago, we stopped running low-acuity medical calls,” he said. “Low acuity is a medical term for “not a serious medical call. General complaints of pain, sprained ankle or ‘I don’t feel good, I need to go to the hospital.’”

Luffman further explained the situation and why the fire department did not respond in an email to The Democrat.

“Initial investigation information was that a mistake was made at the Wilson County 911 Center on a recent medical call in Mt. Juliet,” Luffman said. “Upon further investigation, it was found that Wilson County 911 did not make a mistake. The issue found was one of protocol and logistics, which has been reviewed and adjusted to accommodate.
“WEMA and Mt. Juliet Fire Department share a low-acuity protocol that does not require the dispatch of a rescue fire engine. Lebanon Fire Department first responds to all calls for medical service. In this instance, the ambulance that was serving the zone for this call was already out on another call.”

There are two categories dispatchers have when those types of calls come in and an engine is automatically sent, Allen said. They are, car wrecks, anything trauma, heart attack chest pains or diabetic. The second list includes “if the complaint is this. We’re not going to send an engine unless WEMA asks us to,” he said.

Luffman said it prompted two things to happen by WEMA protocol. The next closest ambulance, WEMA Medic 4 in Lakeview, was dispatched for the medical call for service, and the WEMA Engine 3 that serves this zone, was dispatched for first response. Even though the call met the low-acuity criteria, WEMA’s policy is to have the rescue engine respond.

“Since WEMA has a high medical involvement with transport, they will, in times of pulling transport from other zones to cover a call, will dispatch the fire engine for first response,” Luffman said. “The protocol for the Mt. Juliet Fire Department did not address this scenario since we do not control the dispatch locations of the WEMA ambulances and did not foresee this logistical setup, that facet has been added to our protocol. Mt. Juliet did receive the call from Wilson County 911; however, in the fact that the dispatch information received fell under a low-acuity criterion, no Mt. Juliet rescue engine was dispatched.”

Allen said, “We did not have to go on that call. What really hurts is the fire crew, the chiefs, we didn’t know about the call. When it was dispatched, the dispatchers made the decision. We had no knowledge of it.”

If given the chance, Allen said, “I wish we could keep it professional. We’ve been accused of having a ‘spending problem.’ What is frustrating is that our budgets have been approved each year by all five members of the board of commissioners. That includes the mayor. If there is a spending problem, then he’s approved it.

“We’ve not gone over budget. In fact, we’ve returned funds to emergency services every year. So, whether or not you agree that a tax increase [is needed] or not, there’s got to be some type of solution, because we desperately need a third staffed station.”

Last year, the department ran more than 2,670 calls, Allen said, with two stations. Because there is no department on the north end of the city, emergency calls often take 10 minutes when it should take five, he said.

The Lebanon Fire Department has 18 staff members working each shift, he said. Mt. Juliet has a higher population and six members split between two stations.

“They are an older city with some of the challenges that come with that,” he said. “So, we should be somewhere in between.”

Allen said Mt. Juliet encompasses 28.1 square miles, and there are 37,400 people in the city.

“There is a total of 22 full-time, two part-time and 17 volunteers within the department,” Allen said. “Their annual budget is $2.7 million. Compare that to Lebanon, which is 38.6 square miles and has a population of 32,200 people. Their department has 71 full-time and two part-time employees. Their annual budget is $6.8 million.”

Further comparisons included LaVergne, which is 25.1 square miles and has a population of 41,000. It has 46 full-time and 13 part-time employees, and its budget is $4 million.

Allen said he wished the conversation about the department and the potential tax increase, “would be kept professional. I just wish things wouldn’t have evolved to a personal level.”