EMS left out of grant picture

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF
khelms@starhq.com

   The announcement that federal homeland security grant money is finally trickling down to Tennessee's first responders is good news. But some are wondering why it has taken so long.
   Terry Arnold, director of Carter County Emergency Medical Services; Paul Anderson, director of Johnson County EMS; and Chris Williams, training coordinator for Johnson City Fire Department, traveled to Washington, D.C. last week to speak with Tennessee's congressional delegation and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge about the distribution of federal grant money to first responders.
   "We spoke to Sen. Bill Frist, Congressman Bill Jenkins, Sen. Lamar Alexander, and we spoke with Tommy Ridge with Homeland Security and discussed why the EMS is being left out of all the Homeland Security stuff coming down," Arnold said.
   Gov. Phil Bredesen announced Thursday that the state will receive nearly $11 million in grant money from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Bredesen said, "Local police, sheriffs and emergency personnel are on the front line in our homeland security efforts. Homeland security requires a huge commitment of time at the local level, and it places an enormous demand on resources that are already stretched thin.
   "We are committed to putting the lion's share of this money into the hands of those who need it most, and those who can use it most effectively," he said.
   But according to Arnold, because of the way local EMS and fire departments are structured, EMS is often left out when it comes to eligibility for federal money. Also, he said, larger cities generally end up with the biggest piece of the pie. Such was the case Thursday. For example, Johnson County, which has a relatively small population, is eligible to receive only $30,000, while Nashville's Davidson County can apply for $400,000.
   "The larger metropolitan areas have more tax money, more everything," Arnold said. "The smaller counties don't have that big a tax base." They depend on federal grant money to pay for the needed high-dollar equipment "and then we don't get it. The bigger cities get it."
   Of the homeland security grant for Carter County, Arnold said, "$60,000 is not that much money" when you divide it among police, fire and EMS services.
   Another organization often left out of the free money equation is the 911 Emergency Communications District. Glenna Morton, interim 911 director, said earlier this week that while 911 is usually the first agency notified in an emergency, and the one to dispatch first responders, it is all but forgotten when grant money is distributed.
   Arnold said he and local representatives went to Washington to educate the state congressional delegation about why EMS is being shortchanged.
   "Our big gripe is they don't understand that in the bigger cities and metropolitan areas, the fire departments do most of the fire and rescue. If you go to Nashville, fire departments are cutting vehicles, then you have transport people that just come out and take the people to the hospital.
   "We do it all. We do ambulance, rescue, transportation, whitewater, mountain rescue -- all that," he said. "But Congress thinks that fire and rescue are the same thing." And while local fire departments are getting fire grant money, he said, "EMS is getting nothing because we're not a fire/EMS. We're just an EMS."
   Now, Arnold said, the state delegation has been enlightened as to the EMS plight. "It's hard to say how long it will take the lobby to get this straightened out, but we're trying. Sen. Frist's office has set up a task force to find out where the money is going, where it is stopping, and why it isn't getting to the first responders."