On any given night, AAA Ambulance Service might have 24 or more ambulances dispatched across an eight-county area with five of those serving the Hattiesburg area.
During peak daylight hours, they have eight units serving the Hub City. The service is a joint effort of Forrest General Hospital, Forrest County and the City of Hattiesburg, and it is the oldest continuously operated EMS company in the state. It also managed the first tax-supported helicopter program in the United States.
“We have a bunch of firsts,” said Wade Spruill, CEO.
The nonprofit requires eight dispatchers during the day and seven at night to handle the approximately 120 calls AAA receives on a daily basis. They also dispatch for two other ground ambulance services and, through SEMAAD (Southeast Mississippi Air Ambulance District), helicopters based in Hattiesburg (Rescue 7), Gulfport (Rescue 5), and McComb (Rescue 9).
It requires a great deal of skill to keep all of that emergency equipment and personnel rolling at one time, especially when their coverage area includes Lamar (Hattiesburg city limits), Forrest, Perry, Pearl River, Marion, Jefferson Davis, Walthall, and Pike counties.
As a public service to the community, every call they receive is answered. To assist in keeping ambulances available for true emergencies, it is important for the community to know when to call an ambulance. Andy Geske, AAA’s director of Information and Technology, said you need to call an ambulance if your circumstances are life threatening.
“If you call for an ambulance when you need to go to the hospital, then we want you to get the care you need as quickly as possible,” he said.
Chuck Carter, chief operating officer, said, “We get calls to help people get up off the floor or to help them get out of their bed and into a wheelchair. While we are there to help, it does take up time and can make for a long response time to a true life-threatening emergency. If you have a true emergency, you should always call.”
Spruill explained that the perception of some people is that the ambulance service isn’t very busy since they see ambulances sitting in spots around the coverage area.
“We are moving ambulances around all the time. It’s very fluid,” he explained. “The ambulances are stationed at strategic locations in order to provide a fast response time. If an ambulance is in the Perry County area and gets dispatched, then other ambulances move around to serve as backups for that area.”
A lot of factors play into whether or not a helicopter or ground ambulance is dispatched to the scene.
“Once again, it’s based on a series of questions,” Geske said. “Instances might include mass casualties, multi-system trauma, victims from a multiple-vehicle accident or an industrial accident, where there may be a long response time, or a crew is there but needs help, as well as location.”
“Being in a life-threatening circumstance is traumatic,” Spruill said. “People will often repeat, ‘send an ambulance, send an ambulance now.’ Understandably, their cries for help need a fast response, as we do our best to get there as quickly as possible.”
In most instances, the ambulance is already on its way while the caller is still on the phone. The minute a call comes in, an address and phone number are received, not once, but twice, and after a couple of more quick questions, the ambulance is on the road.
“We follow a national standard credentialed program, and that’s the reason we ask the certain questions we do,” Geske said.
Spruill attributes AAA’s success to the employees.
“We are only as good as our employees,” he said.
That list of employees is long with 90 paramedics, 97 EMTs, 34 emergency medical dispatchers and five registered nurse paramedics. The team is headed up by 32 executive and administrative staff members.
“We’re committed to be a leader in the ever-changing medical care field,” Spruill said. “That means caring for the community with the best level of emergency medical care we can provide, whether in the air or on the ground.”
Communication for the business, which was chartered in 1967, is run out of their state-of-the art headquarters off Highway 49 North in Hattiesburg.
Their dispatch center, which Spruill describes as “extraordinary,” features an integrated communications system that was installed in 1998. The system automatically accepts 9-1-1 calls and assists the controller in mapping and keeping continuous track of all units of the service. The facility, with its computer-based radio system, also has a sophisticated CAD Flight Following Program.
The fleet also includes 37 fully equipped ambulances, six supervisor and special response vehicles, a special emergency response vehicle for access to individuals in large crowds, and an air-conditioned mobile rehabilitation triage trailer.
All of the maintenance for these vehicles has been done in house since 1993.
A facility located on-site houses a staff of six full-time certified mechanics that oversee the care of the AAA fleet.