Rapid Lee County growth strains emergency services - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Rapid Lee County growth strains emergency services

February 22, 2008

Leesburg -- 911 Center officials say they will request more personnel because of the unprecedented increase in the number of emergency calls every day.

One of the biggest challenges is finding all the new streets that pop up almost weekly.

Ambulances and fire trucks are rolling more often in Lee County, and emergency responders say sometimes it's to new locations they are not familiar with.

 Lee County Emergency Medical Services Director Bobby Watkins said "Lee County is growing so fast, it's hard to keep up with new construction going on. Subdivisions going in, roads being cut."

For example Wisteria Estates on Lover's Lane Road, with dozens of homes springing up on a number of streets, none of them named or on county maps.

 "It does present a problem, especially when we get a new name that we are not familiar with. Hasn't reached our map book with," Watkins said.

So Emergency responders have to rely heavily on 911 center operators to get good directions to those new locations. But those 9--1 Center operators are being pushed to their limits at the same time.

 "Just the fact that there are more and more people living in Lee County. More and more people passing through Lee County puts a great stress on the number of calls," said 911 Center Coordinator Larry Hill.

Lee County 911 operators handled more than 60,000 calls in the last six months of 2007, but there are only two operators on duty at most times. One emergency can often generate dozens of cell phone calls from witnesses, which can slow operators directing emergency crews.

Hill said "For them to get ambulance, fire truck, law enforcement in route to that while the phones are still ringing."

So emergency responders will ask for more people to operate newer cell phone tracking equipment to go in use in the next few months, even though the county budget is stretched. Because growth in Lee County is stressing emergency response, to all the new areas in South Georgia's fastest growing county.

Some Lee County paramedics and first responders are buying their own personal G.P.S. navigation devices to help them find streets.

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