MURRAY – The Murray-Calloway County Ambulance Service/ Emergency Medical Services is set to finish moving into the Murray Fire Department’s former headquarters at the corner of Fifth and Poplar streets by the end of the month, a move the EMS director said will allow staff to transition from 12-hour to 24-hour shifts.

The Murray City Council voted on Nov. 25 to approve an agreement between the city and EMS to move into the facility. Mayor Bob Rogers said the building is currently used only for the fire marshal’s office and for staff training. The agreement stipulates that in lieu of rent, the ambulance service will pay 75% of the utility costs. It also covers maintenance, liability and hazard insurance, as well as outlining the specific areas of the building the ambulance staff will occupy, Rogers said. He added that the fire department will continue to use one garage bay while EMS uses the others.

“If us partnering with the hospital and EMS will provide a shorter response time when somebody calls the ambulance, we’re certainly glad to be a part of that because time is critical,” Rogers said last week. “If they’re going to be there 24/7, I would think that would increase their ability to respond in a more timely manner. So I’m happy we had the facility available and the partnership will hopefully be beneficial to the community.”

EMS Director Marty Barnett said his goal is to start operations out of the facility on Jan. 30. Although he said there wasn’t much that was needed to prepare the building for its new function, EMS employees have been moving equipment in and have been redecorating a bit, painting over the fire engine red walls to EMS blue. He said they have also been moving supply shelving in, and lockers and other necessities have also been ordered.

Barnett said EMS moved into its current location at 803 Poplar St. in October 1994. He said moving the headquarters to 207 S. Fifth St. will not only help with the change to 24-hour shifts by providing living quarters and fulfilling other needs, but will give them room for future growth.

“At the time we moved into this building, we ran two ambulance crews during the daytime and one at night,” Barnett said. “As time has gone on, we’ve almost doubled our run volume. We are right at 6,000 calls a year, and back then, we were probably at about 3,000 to 3,200. So over the last 27 years, we’ve doubled our call volume, which means we need to double our size. 

“In our current building, we’ve gone to two ambulance crews during the daytime and two at night, and then we have a third crew that works a noon to midnight shift to try to help buffer that. We’ve got six ambulances, and our current building only holds three. So moving our main operations to (the Fifth Street) station will allow us to keep four ambulances there, and also keep our backup ambulances (at the current location) that we use if one goes to the shop for general servicing. They’re still in good shape and there’s nothing wrong with them; we just rotate them out.”

Barnett said having extra room for all its vehicles will allow EMS to keep them inside out of the weather, and as a result, they’ll also be able to keep their equipment at a regulated temperature. He said it will also be great for the staff to have access to a kitchen since it’s hard to eat healthy when you’re always on the go.

“It also gives us the ability to expand,” he said. “Because where we are right now, we’re on top of each other. So moving gives us the ability to expand and gives us a vision for the future. Of course, when the fire department was there in that building, it held probably 10 folks there 24 hours a day. We are only looking at six right now, so it gives us a great opportunity to add to our department.”

Barnett said he had been with the ambulance service since 1994, but he believed the agency had always done 12-hour shifts since Murray-Calloway County Hospital took over operations in 1980. With the current schedule, 10 people work a 12-hour shift each day, and they work four shifts a week. On a 24-hour schedule, only six people would be needed each day, and they would work two 24-hour shifts a week. Barnett said most paramedics find it more appealing to work two days a week to make 48 hours, as opposed to four days to make the same amount, and it is also more financially beneficial for them.

“If you look at all the other ambulance services throughout the state and our area – and even the majority of the world, I guess – they do 24-hour shifts. You need less staff that way. If you work 12-hour shifts, you need double the amount of staff, but if you work 24, you need half as much. Of course, if you ask anybody who works 24-hour shifts, some days you win and some days you lose. Some days, you run all night long and some days, you have a good night. There’s some good and bad with that, but we know in EMS that long hours are part of our job and we’re used to it. So we can use the staff we’ve got and put more ambulance crews on the street with fewer staff.”

Barnett said there have been several EMS employees who decided after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to pursue other opportunities, and he hoped the new facility and 24-hour shift schedule would allow EMS too keep more people on staff longer. He said one former employee left full-time work to be a travel paramedic in the U.S. Virgin Islands, though he still works part-time with EMS when he’s back in Murray for 30 days at a time. Another decided to relocate to Reno, Nevada, and another left to fly for AirEvac, he said.

“That’s a good thing for them, and Murray’s a good stepping stone to go on to bigger and better things, but being able to migrate to this building and to the 24-hour shifts allows us to maybe stop being that stepping stone and get more folks to put down roots here,” Barnett said.