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Fire department to add ambulance for Columbia during peak hours

Nate Martin, left, an emergency medical technician, helps paramedic Alex McWethy navigate as they respond to a call May 21.
Nate Martin, left, an emergency medical technician, helps paramedic Alex McWethy navigate as they respond to a call May 21. (Staff photo by Jon Sham)

Starting early next year, an extra ambulance will be assigned to the Columbia area during peak hours, Howard County officials announced Monday.

The county's Department of Fire and Rescue Services will launch its pilot "peak load" ambulance on Jan. 4. The additional vehicle is intended to meet demand in the densely populated Columbia region at during times when there are a higher number of emergency calls.

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The department has seen demand for emergency services rise by 300 to 400 calls per year, according to Fire Chief John Butler. The county has a dozen paramedic units and two basic life support units, as well as volunteer and career crews on reserve.

"Ensuring that all residents of Howard County are safe is a top priority," County Executive Allan Kittleman said in a statement. "Utilizing this additional ambulance may get first responders to an emergency faster, which ultimately helps improve outcomes and saves lives."

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The peak ambulance will be available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, which is historically when the department receives high volumes of calls, fire officials said. The ambulance will come from the department's reserve pool and will mainly respond to calls using the Banneker fire station in downtown Columbia as its base.

"Providing exceptional EMS care to all of Howard County is vital," Butler said in a statement. "Emergency Medical Services make up a majority of the call for services that [the fire department] responds to. By placing this additional ambulance in service during the peak load hours, we are responding to the increasing EMS needs of the community. We suspect that this initiative will cause a positive 'ripple effect' and create increased availability of the current ambulance fleet throughout the County, not just in Columbia."

The county will use the trial period, which will run anywhere from four to six months, to evaluate the peak load ambulances' effectiveness at matching the community's need for service.

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