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Five decades of service

Johnson County EMS
A Johnson County EMS ambulance parked in front of the Johnson County Rescue squad in Mountain City. The private, not-for-profit organization receives no funding or support from the county or the city, but is expected to cover a large area and is facing many obstacles while providing vital services to area residents. Photo by Jill Penley

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

Rescue squads continue to provide a crucial role in medical emergencies responding to everything from a choking child to an automobileaccident.

Basic services initially introduced in the late 19th century have now morphed into professional medical transport systems. Providing this service in a rural area, roughly covering 303 square miles, can be a daunting task, but the Johnson County Rescue Squad has a rich history based on serving residents and businesses and has saved countless lives over the past 50 years.

“There is no such thing as a typical rural EMS service,” said Jeff Young, Johnson County Rescue Squad, and EMS Director. “From funding to staffing, every rural EMS agency must take a unique approach to delivering EMS care in the best way possible.”

A popular misconception involves how the rescue squad is funded. “We operate almost exclusively on revenue collected from billing for patient transports,” explained Young, “with a very small portion coming from donations and rent for the use of our crewette building.” In fact, the local rescue squad is a private, not-for-profit organization governed by bylaws and a board of directors, and receives no funding or support from the county or the city. “We receive no funding or support whatsoever from Johnson County or Mountain City nor do we receive any portion of tax dollars collected,” said Young, “and we are the only county in northeast Tennessee that does not receive financial support from their county and, or city.” He indicates this includes Johnson, Carter, Unicoi, Washington, Sullivan, Hancock, and Hawkins Counties.

In the early years of pre-hospital emergency care, Rescue Squads provided a crucial role in rural communities the groundbreaking of what would later be referred to as EMS, or Emergency Medical Services.

Founded over 50 years ago as Johnson County Emergency and Rescue Squad, and first chartered in 1967 by a group of 13 men, the modern-day Rescue Squad has perhaps outgrown even the dream of the county’s forefathers. The job at hand evolves day by day and technology is continually giving way to new treatments, updated techniques, and specialized equipment.

“We currently have six ambulances, one heavy rescue, two utility vehicles, three boats, and an ATV in our fleet,” explained Young, who confirmed the organization has 25 employees, who handle an average of 344 calls per month, with some impressive response times. From dispatch to arrival on scene, they average 15 minutes for an emergency call and 18 minutes for calls for transfers.

“The Johnson County Rescue Squad handled over 4,100 calls in 2017, but the team agrees they couldn’t do it alone,” said Young.

The Rescue Squad works closely with First Responders who have proven themselves invaluable to patient care. Because Johnson County is vast and remote, the Rescue Squad oftenrelies on First Responders to make it to the scene before they can. “First Responders are all volunteers and Rescue Squad members know that the success of their endeavors is often dependent on these upstanding men and women,” said Young. The areas of the county with First Responders include Shady Valley, Dry Run, Butler, and Laurel Bloomery.

In addition to transport, emergency medical, and rescue services the Johnson County Rescue Squad and EMS are active in the community by maintaining an active and robust youth Explorer group, sponsoring and coaching a local little league team with funds donated by employees and staff.

They also have a good working relationship with the Johnson County High School health occupations department. “We provide much in-house training to our employees,” explained Young, “but also offer much to the local first responder and fire department agencies at no cost to them as well.”

The most significant obstacle for this department remains the same as 50 years ago – response and transport in a rural area riddled with crooked, winding roads efficiently while recalling it may be a life or death situation.