Towns County prepares as COVID-19 spreads in Georgia

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Towns County COVID-19

HIAWASSEE, Ga. –  Elected and appointed officials from all Towns County, Hiawassee, and Young Harris government and emergency agencies, with the exception of Towns County Sheriff’s Office, gathered for a press briefing at the Towns County Courthouse, Tuesday, March 17, to assure citizens of the swift response to COVID-19.

Towns County EMA

Towns County EMA Director Brandon Walls

“Information has been a key point in this whole thing, We still want to continue our stance, our request to the public to not spread things that aren’t credible,” Towns County Emergency Management Director Brandon Walls said. “If it doesn’t come from a very credible source – as in us, the CDC, the Georgia Department of Public Health – we want to continue to ask citizens, don’t spread it.” Walls explained how public speculation, especially on social media, can lead to widespread misinformation.

Click for updated list of Towns County closings

Dr. Jonathan Lawerence, the county’s volunteer EMS Medical Director, attended the briefing. Dr. Lawerence praised the measures that Towns County is implementing in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Dr. Jonathan Lawerence

EMS Medical Director Dr. Jonathan Lawerence

“So this is like the phase one,” Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw said. “My department heads have been working on this for a couple of weeks for where we’re at right now, for these closings, how we’re handling it, how we’re handling our employees. If it gets worse, and it possibly could and we pray that it don’t, but if it gets worse and we get people in the county that’s affected with it and showing positive to the virus, we are working now – the department heads and myself – on the next phase. How will we do it? Will we close the courthouse? If we close the courthouse, how will we conduct business? Those are the things that we’re going to be working on after this meeting today and the rest of the week.” The commissioner assured that his office could operate remotely in a “worst-case scenario.”

Click to read: Towns County teacher tests negative for COVID-19

Commissioner Bradshaw said that the county is in contact with state and federal agencies in “real-time” and informed that the Towns County website and Towns County Emergency Management Agency Facebook page will be continually updated with information and “potential and actual COVID-19 cases” in the immediate area.

Click to connect with Towns County EMA

Towns County EMS Director Ken Nicholson explained that the temperature of paramedics and EMTs are now taken at the start and end of each shift, along with describing the high-level of precautions taken to protect the health of patients and medical units. Towns County 911 Director Marty Roberts said that 911 callers are asked a series of screening questions prior to the arrival of first responders. Towns County Fire Chief Harold Copeland stated that firefighters have been instructed to respond singularly to medical calls to reduce the odds of a multi-quarantine should the virus be presumed or confirmed. A substantial amount of medical masks, gowns, and face shields were reported on hand for all departments.

Towns County EMS

Towns County EMS Director Ken Nicholson

Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith stated that during traffic stops, officers have been instructed to ask citizens to read their driver’s license number rather than physically exchange the information with law enforcement. Young Harris College Police Chief Ken Henderson offered to assist all county and city agencies as needed.

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales informed that the interior of Hiawassee City Hall is closed as a precautionary measure. Payments can be submitted through the on-site dropbox, however, or online. Young Harris Mayor Andrea Gibby said that Young Harris City Hall remains open at this time due to window partitioning in the building’s lobby.

Continue to follow FYN for now-news on COVID-19.

 

 

UPDATED: Towns County teacher suspected of coronavirus

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Hiawassee sewer

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – FYN learned from Towns County EMA on Monday morning, March 16, that a patient suspected of contracting COVID-19 was transferred overnight from Chatuge Regional Hospital in Hiawassee to Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, GA.

The patient was described as a female in her 50s.

UPDATED: Towns County Board of Education announced Tuesday morning that the test results were negative for COVID-19.

UPDATED: FYN confirmed that the patient suspected of contracting the virus is an elementary school teacher at Towns County Schools.

“Towns County Schools learned early today that an Elementary School teacher was tested for the Coronavirus this morning.,” the school board stated. “Results for the test can take up to 72 hours and we will inform everyone as we get more information. Please understand that this is NOT a confirmed case of the virus. Elementary School Employees were informed to stay home and keep their distance from parents, grandparents, and elderly populations until the test results come back. Our suggestion is the same for parents and students who were in the Elementary School last week. This is not a time for panic, but a time for wisdom. Be smart, keep your distance from other people, wash your hands religiously, and monitor yourself and children for any symptoms. Working together as a community, we can minimize the effects of this virus in Towns County. Once we learn the results of the test, a decision on what school will look like for the next 3 weeks will be made and passed on to you.”

FYN reported this morning that two Towns County EMS responders who assisted the teacher were placed under mandatory quarantine.

“Last night, a Towns County resident was transported to North East Georgia Medical Center from Chatuge Regional Hospital with suspicious symptoms,” Towns County EMA Director Brandon Walls said. “County officials were made aware of the transfer and circumstances late last night. Steps have been taken to mitigate and further exposure possibility. Two EMS employees will be on isolation pending test results. Please remember this is only a suspected case at this time. More information will be posted as available.”

Third rollover vehicle accident occurs in a week

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Hiawassee accident

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The third Towns County rollover vehicle accident in a week occurred on Thursday. March 5, on State Route 76 near Swallow’s Creek Road, east of Hiawassee. A male driver suffered non-life threatening injuries when the vehicle that he was driving exited the highway and striking a tree prior to the rollover. Towns County first responders were dispatched to the scene at 5:13 p.m. The patient was transported by ambulance to Chatuge Regional Hospital in Hiawassee for medical treatment. Responders on the scene of the crash reported wet roadway conditions.

The initial accident occurred Feb. 28 when a 20-year-old male driver was ejected from the vehicle that he was driving following a rollover crash, ending alongside the State Route 76’s eastbound shoulder in Young Harris. The Hiawassee resident miraculously sustained only minor injuries, refusing ambulance transport for further medical evaluation. An accident on March 3 involved a rollover accident on State Route 75 North in Hiawassee. The driver was transported to Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville by Towns County EMS with non-life threatening injuries.

NHTSA data shows that 95% of single-vehicle rollovers are considered tripped. This happens when a vehicle leaves the roadway and slides sideways, digging its tires into soft soil or striking an object such as a curb or guardrail. The high tripping force applied to the tires in these situations can cause the vehicle to roll over.

Towns County paramedics complete tactical medical training

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Towns County EMS

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) paramedics, Ray Giles and Curtis Walls completed a three-day Tactical Emergency Casualty Care (TECC) course, Feb. 26, in Gainesville, GA. The voluntary, hands-on training provided first responders with the necessary skills to medically treat casualties.

Ray Giles Curtis Walls

Towns County paramedic Ray Giles (left) with EMS Supervisor Curtis Walls.

“This course was conducted at Hall County Sheriff’s Department Training Center,” Instructor Aaron Jamison of Valkyries Austere Medical Solutions said. “A big thanks to our friends at the facility. Also, I want to recognize Matthew Crumpton from Region B Georgia Hospital Coalition who hosted this course. Matthew also provided an IFAK kit to each of our 22 students. It doesn’t get much better than 24 hours of some comprehensive and experience training.”

IFAKs are trauma kits containing essential life-saving materials, bleeding control, and major wound treatments, including tourniquets.

The TECC students represented EMS, fire and rescue, law enforcement, K-9, and the Georgia Department of Public Health. Developed by the National Association of Emergency Medical Technician’s Prehospital Trauma Life Support (PHTLS) Committee, the TECC program is based on the guidelines from the Committee on Tactical Emergency Casualty Care (Co-TECC) and the Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) program. TECC uses lessons learned from the military and applies them to the civilian world of tactical medicine.

Towns County EMS

Training included medical triage at the casualty collection point.

The 24-hour course covered areas designed to decrease preventable death in tactical situations.

Topics included:

  • MARCH-E assessment algorithm
  • Hemorrhage Control
  • Surgical Airway Control & Needle Decompression
  • Strategies for Treating Wounded Responders in Threatening Environments
  • Pediatric Patients
  • Techniques for Dragging/Carrying Victims

TECC focuses on phases of care and provides guidelines for managing trauma in the civilian tactical or hazardous environment. While TECC has a tactical slant, it takes an all-hazards approach to provide care outside the normal operating conditions of most EMS agencies, such as responding to a mass casualty or active shooter event.

“This allowed for us as a training team to integrate the all-hazards approach to managing ASHE events. It all provided for all our students to spend time together and learn about each other’s role in the public safety response in the Gainesville and Hall County area,” Jamison said.

Jamison’s career spans over 35 years, encompassing wilderness experience, military training, and pre-hospital medicine

The course was funded by the Georgia Department of Public Health.

EMS to purchase additional upgraded ambulance

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Towns County EMS

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) plans to upgrade a second ambulance in its fleet, with a new addition expected to be operatable as early as May 2020. Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw received a bid of $126,342 for a generator-powered ambulance module from Frazer, a Texas-based manufacturer, contracted through the county in the past. Towns County received an upgraded ambulance module from Frazier in May 2019.

The ambulance modules, also referred to as the “box” where patients are treated, can be remounted to the cab and chassis of the vehicle approximately 5 or 6 times. “We did the math last year and it’s more money upfront, but you save money in the long run because of the remounts that we were doing,” Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw explained, adding that electrical wiring and leaks were issues in the past.

The updated edition is constructed of steel and will carry twice the capacity than the one it will replace, necessary in the event of a multi-casualty accident. The module features a generator and bright LED lighting, allowing medics to function more efficiently in dimly-lit emergencies. The cab and chassis of the ambulance are expected to be purchased through Jacky Jones dealership which will include a trade-in on the 2011 F350 model currently in service.

Frazer is the leading builder of emergency service vehicles and generator-powered custom EMS vehicles. The company has been in business since 1956 and is a growing organization with over 190 employees. We specialize in EMS vehicles suitable for licensing and use as mobile clinics, mobile stroke units, and ambulances.

Towns County EMS responds to approximately 2,000 calls per year, providing coverage for the county and transfers for Chatuge Regional Hospital. The crew is composed of paramedics and emergency medical technicians. Staffing consists of one ambulance staged at two stations, 24-hours every day of the year. Each station has an additional ambulance fully equipped and ready to respond as needed, amounting to a total of four ambulances. An all-terrain vehicle is available for off-road response and rescue. Furthermore, a multi-casualty trailer capable of treating and stabilizing 75 trauma patients is available, as well as a mobile trailer capable of equipping a 50 person shelter.

Featured Image: Towns County EMS received “Med 4” in May 2019.

Walls receives EMS award from Sons of American Revolution

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Curtis Walls - Towns County EMS

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Paramedic Curtis Walls received the 2019 Emergency Medical Service Award from the Sons of the American Revolution “in recognition of dedication to the preservation of life and health under emergency conditions and performing beyond the duties normally called for” within the profession. The award was presented to Walls at the Towns County Courthouse, Tuesday, Dec. 17.

“Curtis Walls began his career in emergency medicine in 1982 and has selflessly served Towns County as a paramedic for the past 27 years,” Sid Turner, Vice President of the Blue Ridge Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, said. “Prior to serving Towns County as a medical responder, Curtis achieved Georgia POST law enforcement certification, trained at the Georgia Fire Academy, became certified through GEMA with the National Incident Command System, and received an advanced education in emergency medical response.

“Curtis was initially employed as an officer with the Georgia Department Corrections, later transitioning to the role of correctional medic. Curtis has served as a deputy coroner for Towns County and currently serves as a state-certified deputy director with Towns County Emergency Management Agency and Homeland Security, in addition to serving the area as a nationally registered paramedic and county EMS supervisor.

Curtis Walls - Towns County

VP of SAR Sid Turner (left) with Towns County EMS Supervisor Curtis Walls.

“Curtis is a Georgia-certified emergency manager, has devoted his high level of medical expertise, as well as countless hours, as a skilled paramedic to the citizens of Towns County, often on-call when off-duty in order to ensure that the county is adequately covered for unexpected events. He exhibits exceptional leadership skills, true professionalism, dedicated service, genuine compassion, and consistent humility in the day-to-day operations of Towns County EMS, and I am proud and honored to give him this medal.”
Walls was nominated for recognition of outstanding service by fellow EMS crew members.
The Sons of the American Revolution honors law enforcement, firefighters, and emergency medical responders annually for their dedicated service to the community. The Blue Ridge Chapter incorporates Towns, Union, Fannin, and Gilmer counties.

 

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Towns County EMS visits children at local development center

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Towns County EMS

YOUNG HARRIS, Ga. – Children at Towns County Child Development Center received a visit from Towns County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Thursday, July 18, and enjoyed an opportunity to learn about the functions of the newest ambulance added to the fleet. The children marveled at the lights and siren, and asked emergency medical staff questions about the onboard equipment used in emergency care.

Towns County EMS

Towns County EMS, Med 4

Towns County EMS added the additional ambulance to its fleet in late-May. The updated steel module carries twice the capacity than the one it replaced, necessary in the event of a multi-casualty accident. The module features a generator and bright LED lighting, allowing medics to function more efficiently in dimly-lit environments.

The vehicle is equipped with a growler siren system which sounds on an ultra-low frequency, physically vibrating and alerting drivers and pedestrians in high-density areas, such as intersections.

Towns County EMS, which consists of full-time and part-time paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs), responds to approximately 2,000 calls per year, additionally providing transfers from Chatuge Regional Hospital.

Feature Image: Towns County EMT Jonathan Wilson, answering the children’s questions.

Towns County to upgrade 911 emergency system in 2020

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Towns County 911

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, joined by Towns County 911 Director Marty Roberts, held a special-called meeting at the courthouse Tuesday, July 2, to sign a contract approving an upgraded 911 computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system for emergency services. “It’s been time to upgrade it,” Commissioner Bradshaw said, adding, “We’re at the point where we’re ready to move forward with it.”

Towns County 911

Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw (left) with 911 Director Marty Roberts

911 Director Roberts explained that the improved system will be custom-tailored to Towns County, and that the program is expected to be up and running in early 2020. The cost of the enhanced system totals nearly $213,000, a price which Bradshaw defined as a “tremendous amount of money.” The charge is roughly half of the amount that the commissioner expected to spend on the program upon taking office, however, and Bradshaw expressed approval, referencing computer-aided dispatch as “the heartbeat of 911.”

911 dispatchers will receive additional training prior to the introduction of the advanced system, and the hardware and software – with servers, links, and terminals – are included in the modernized package. Roberts said that mobile CADs will be installed in ambulances for the first-time in county history, allowing paramedics to view precise locations of medical emergencies on maps, while exchanging critical information with the call center. The system will subsequently reduce radio traffic, freeing talk-time over the airwaves. The same company which has provided CAD service in Towns County for more than a decade will supply the innovated program.

 

On-Scene Exclusive: Towns County holds active shooter drill, tests medical response

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Towns County EMS

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Realistic is the most accurate adjective to describe an active shooter drill which took place in Towns County on the morning of Friday, May 3, 2019. The full-scale training, directed jointly by the Georgia Mountains Healthcare Coalition and the Northeast Georgia Health System, was designed primarily to test the response of emergency medical providers.

Towns County active shooter drill

A Towns County deputy stands beside a subdued “shooter”

The mock scenario took place outside of Dr. Samuel Church’s office, located behind Zaxby’s restaurant, off State Route 76 in eastern Hiawassee. “Victims” were staged – complete with graphic, cosmetic injuries – at various points throughout the crime scene. Some were in open view, while others were in less obvious locations. The narrative, previously reported by FYN, read that two, escaped inmates – members of the brutal “Ghostface Gang” – shot innocent bystanders outside of the medical provider’s office.

Towns County EMS

A young “gunshot victim” awaits emergency medical treatment

At 9:11 am, Towns County 911 dispatched emergency responders to the scene of the simulated crisis. Within one minute, law enforcement officers from Hiawassee Police Department and Towns County Sheriff’s Office arrived at the masacre, blocking the roadway with patrol vehicles before “fatally” subduing two shooters in skilled succession. One the threat had been neutralized, four Towns County Sheriff’s deputies secured a perimeter around the scene, and Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith could be seen directing a hysterical actor to a suitable location. Along with civilians, a law enforcement officer was said to have been “fatally shot” during the mock attack.

Towns County EMS

Brandi Garrett, a resident of Hayesville, volunteered to play the role of a fatally injured “victim”

Towns County Fire and Rescue responders soon arrived at the location, lights flashing and sirens screaming, rendering aid while triaging “victims” according to the severity of their injuries. “Victims” who were fatally wounded were quickly tagged to alert incoming responders of their expired conditions.

Towns County Emergency Medical Service (EMS) paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) raced to the crisis, providing urgent treatment on multiple casualties. Three ambulances transported the “victims” to Chatuge Regional Hospital in Hiawassee, and three of the “patients” warranted an air-flight to trauma centers. FYN spoke with EMS Director Ken Nicholson during the drill as he assisted a role-player who suffered a gunshot wound to the abdominal area. “The training was laid out good,” the lead paramedic said. “The victims were scattered in different places, and it went well, working with available resources.”

“I think it went well,” agreed Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith, once the exercise had concluded. “It was about as realistic as we could have hoped. While the drill was designed mainly to test medical response, the addition of law enforcement created an authentic scenario. The drill was realistic, and the stress involved helped induce the right mindset.” Chief Smith was the commanding officer of the drill, as it occurred within the city’s jurisdiction. Smith explained that in a real-life situation at that particular location, Main Street would have been partitioned to eliminate traffic, and the media would have likely been staged at a nearby plaza. Georgia Bureau of Investigation would have been tasked with investigating the tragic scene. Towns County Sheriff’s Captain Jim Couch explained that the Towns County Courthouse and Towns County Schools simulated a lock-down for the sake of security during the drill.

Towns County Fire and Rescue

Towns County Fire and Rescue prepares a “victim” for transport

Towns County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Brandon Walls observed the agencies’ response techniques, noting areas that could benefit from additional training. Walls described the drill as “quality,” adding that EMA plans to “hotwash” items with the fire department. Clearview at Chatuge Clinic Director Wendell Farmer was present throughout the exercise, along with registered nurse and paramedic, Sherry Minchew, an artistic participant who created the detailed, physical effects on the “injured” role-players.

An active shooter drill was simultaneously held in Blairsville at the farmers market venue, with “patient” transports arriving at Union General Hospital.

Feature Photo: Towns County EMS transports a “gunshot victim” to an awaiting ambulance for treatment

 

“National Telecommunications Week” recognizes Towns County 911 dispatchers

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Towns County 911

YOUNG HARRIS, Ga. – Emergency 911 operators are a literal lifeline for those in need of assistance from law enforcement, fire departments, or urgent medical services. Annually adopted, April 14-20 marked “National Telecommunications Week,” a period set aside to recognize the crucial, behind-the-scene duties conducted by dispatchers. Towns County 911 hosted a barbeque dinner, complete with southern side dishes, at the Emergency Operations Center in Young Harris, April 22, in appreciation of the difficult, demanding jobs our local 911 operators perform.

Towns County 911

Towns County 911 Center

Towns County dispatchers serve 12 hour shifts, with two operators assigned per stretch. One dispatcher receives emergency calls while relaying pertinent information to their partner. The second operator “tones” and transmits the details to the appropiate first responder units. At times, dispatchers find themselves juggling multiple calls, all the while remaining calm and composed despite the magnitude of a crisis.

“They’re locked in this room, twelve hours a day, and there’s times when there’s a lull, but when it gets busy, it’s just crazy,” 911 Director Marty Roberts told FYN. “They work really hard, and people kind of forget about them because they’re in here. When we have something like this, when we can recognize them, we let them know that we think about them, and acknowledge that they do a hard job. We’re proud of them. I’ve got some of the best dispatchers in the country. I’d put them up against anybody. They do a wonderful job.”

Deputies from Towns County Sheriff’s Office, personnel from Towns County Emergency Medical Services, and Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw attended the dinner. “I can’t thank 911 enough for all that they do,” Commissioner Bradshaw said. “They truly care. They put their heart and soul into it. They do an outstanding job.”

Feature Photo: (L-R) Towns County 911 Dispatchers: Presley Smith, Christine Vannus, Michelle Hedden, Ashley Walker, Trina Campbell, Robyn Henson, 911 Director Marty Roberts, Phillip Ivester, Karen Abercrombie, Wayne Canterberry

Towns County EMS adds new ambulance to fleet

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Towns County EMS

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Emergency Medical Services (TCEMS) added a new ambulance to its fleet over the Memorial weekend, an addition that has been in the works since last October. The emergency vehicle will join four other ambulances which serve Towns County, and will be housed at the west station in Young Harris. TCEMS delivered the ambulance from company, Frazer, which submitted the lowest bid from Houston, Tx.

FYN spoke with TCEMS Director Ken Nicholson who called the recent addition “top of the line,” adding that it has less miles, and will be easier to remount when necessary.

The updated module carries twice the capacity than the one it replaced, necessary in the event of a multi-casualty accident, and it is constructed of steel, TCEMS EMT Jim Shirley explained in October. The module features a generator and bright LED lighting, allowing medics to function more efficiently in dimly-lit emergency situations. The cab and chassis of the ambulance was purchased through Jacky Jones dealership. The process of the ambulance becoming operational was expected to take approximately nine months, with completion occurring two months ahead of schedule.

Child Bitten by Copperhead Snake in Hiawassee

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snake bite - Hiawassee

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – A 12-year-old child suffered a bite from a juvenile copperhead snake Sunday, May 19, shortly before 9 p.m. The incident occurred in the Macedonia area, east of Hiawassee. FYN learned that the child was struck on the hand by the snake, and air-lifted to Scottish Rite Hospital in Atlanta for emergency treatment. Towns County Emergency Medical Services and Towns County Fire and Rescue responded to the incident.

Copperheads are pit vipers, like rattlesnakes and water moccasins. Pit vipers have “heat-sensory pits between eye and nostril on each side of head,” which are able to detect minute differences in temperatures so that the snakes can accurately strike the source of heat, which is often potential prey. “Copperhead behavior is very much like that of most other pit vipers,” said herpetologist Jeff Beane, collections manager of amphibians and reptiles at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

Copperheads bite more people in most years than any other U.S. species of snake, according to the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension Service. Fortunately, copperhead venom is not extremely potent. Unlike most venomous snakes, copperheads give no warning signs and strike almost immediately if they feel threatened. Copperheads have hemotoxic venom, said Beane, which means that a copperhead bite “often results in temporary tissue damage in the immediate area of bite.” Their bite may be painful but is “very rarely fatal to humans.” Children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems may have strong reactions to the venom, however, and anyone bitten by a copperhead should seek medical attention.

Questions surface after school lock-down drill

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HIAWASSEE, Ga. – On the morning of Wednesday, March 14, a lock-down training exercise took place at Towns County School at 10 a.m.

While there was a call for a nationwide walk-out in remembrance of the 17 lives lost Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, many schools across the nation chose a proactive approach.

FetchYourNews (FYN) learned of the drill and hoped to highlight the positive measures taken.

In the aftermath of the Parkland tragedy, FYN has reported on the subject of school safety in Towns, Gilmer, Fannin, UnionLumpkin, and Dawson County, Georgia, as well as Cherokee County, North Carolina.

While the ultimate safety of students is not being called into question, with FYN maintaining conviction that security is of the utmost concern for Towns County School administrators and Towns County first responders alike, unexpected questions arose during our research.

Towns County GA lockdown drill

Letter sent to the parents of elementary school students

In a letter forwarded to FYN, dated March 13, 2018, and signed by Towns County Elementary Principal Dr. Sandra Page, parents of elementary school children were advised a day in advance that the drill would occur. The letter reads, in part, that “during an active shooter drill, it is necessary to reenact the scenario of a shooter on campus in order to find strengths and possible weaknesses in our emergency plans.”

The letter goes on to state that “local agencies such as the police, EMS (emergency medical services), and the fire department will be involved in this drill and will be arriving on campus.”

Following an unsuccessful, in-person attempt to acquire sufficient information on the active shooter drill from the Towns County Sheriff’s courthouse office, FYN contacted the emergency agencies listed as participants in the training exercise.

FYN was surprised to learn that the Hiawassee Police Department, Towns County Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Towns County Fire and Rescue, as well as the Towns County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) were not notified that a drill was scheduled, and therefore did not participate.

At a Movers and Shakers meeting held Feb. 23, Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton, along with Towns County School Superintendent Dr. Darren Berrong, spoke with concerned citizens regarding school safety. The sheriff divulged that a few years had passed since an active shooter drill was conducted.

Sheriff Clinton opened his speech by recalling a recent conversation with Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith.

“The chief and I were just discussing this, what, a week ago maybe, that it’s about time that we do another one, and that we do it together,” Sheriff Clinton assured.

Sheriff Clinton continued, “How do we make our children safer? Now. Not some place down the road at some philosophical perfect normal for you, but right now. How do we do that? Frankly, at the end of the day, we have to make it a harder target.”

After referencing the 1999 Columbine tragedy, Sheriff Clinton asked, “What’s been done by the government to make our children safer? Not a single thing. Because a lot of people think they can get up and talk about it, and they can harp on whatever their pet issue is. I’m pro-gun, I’m anti-gun, whatever, but as long as they’re talking about it and people are listening, they are getting political mileage out of it, and they really don’t care. I’m sorry, but I care.

“I’m coming to silence the gun. I’m not coming to survive it. I’m coming to silence the gun,” Sheriff Clinton emphasized. “Frankly, that’s what I expect from every deputy sheriff and every law enforcement officer in this nation. God help me if I have to walk past my own children while they bleed. I’m coming to silence the gun.”

At the conclusion of the forum, Sheriff Clinton acknowledged a need to ensure all first responders are familiar with the school’s campus and lock-down procedure. The sheriff told those in attendance that it is up to the community to decide what level of security they want in place. “I work for you,” Sheriff Clinton reminded.

FYN contacted Sheriff Chris Clinton on the evening of the lock-down in anticipation of learning why his plans to include other emergency agencies had changed.

Sheriff Clinton failed to provide an explanation, focusing rather on garnering the individual identities of FYN’s sources. Shortly after asked if proper protocol was followed, a concern brought to the attention of FYN by an emergency official, Sheriff Clinton ended communication.

The following day, Thursday, March 15, FYN Chief Executive Officer Brian Pritchard sat down with Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith, and Towns County Fire Chief Harold Copeland, reconfirming the lack of communication and coordination.

FYN met with Superintendent Dr. Darren Berrong on Friday, March 16, in search of further clarification.

Berrong revealed that the active shooter drill was implemented between himself and Sheriff Clinton, following the Movers and Shakers forum.

When the question was posed concerning the absence of agencies, Berrong replied, “Well, (the school) wasn’t sure of everyone who was involved. I think there were some of those individuals there.” Upon learning that was not the case, Berrong stated there may have been a miscommunication in verbiage, saying, “Personally, for me, it wasn’t about the fire department. It was about the police officers.”

Berrong was then asked to recap the drill.

“At 10:00, Mr. Perren came over the announcement through all three schools and informed them we were going into a lock-down, that there would be police officers walking through the hallways, make sure to keep your doors locked, and to keep the kids in a safe area,” Superintendent Berrong explained. “While that was going on, police officers were making their rounds through the building, just to make sure they were still familiar with what the campus actually looks like, what’s going on during a lock-down, where can you go and where can’t you go in case there is a shooter in the school, and what areas can we access. They made their rounds through the school while we were in lock-down. We were in lock-down probably ten minutes. Our school isn’t a very big building, you can make a round through there fairly quickly. So ten to fifteen minutes, and pretty much that was the end of the drill.”

FYN inquired if there are plans to hold a subsequent active shooter exercise. “We may have further drills. We don’t have any planned currently,” Dr. Berrong said. “Sheriff Clinton and I are in discussion about this summer, getting together with all personnel, fire department and everyone, just to sit down and make sure everyone has plans of the school building, and make sure everyone has access to the ‘Crisis Go’ app, which alerts people when there is an emergency on campus, and just have another round-table discussion about what we are going to do when something like that happens, how do we shut the campus down. We had one of those several years ago, but it’s about time we had another one.”

FYN contacted Towns County School Facility Director Roy Perren. Director Perren relayed that the exercise was exclusively planned for the Towns County Sheriff’s Office and that there was never an intention to include other emergency agencies. The facility director added that a Towns County School meeting will be held in conjunction with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) April 13 concerning the involvement of all first responders, should an emergency situation arise.

Elementary School Principle Dr. Sandra Page returned FYN’s request for comment on the afternoon of Monday, March 19.

Page stated that to her knowledge, the active shooter exercise was changed to simply a lock-down drill on the morning of March 14, shortly before the training occurred, excluding the need for the involvement of  agencies other than the Towns County Sheriff’s Office. “I just wanted to get the information out so that students, parents, and teachers were aware that a drill was going to take place,” Dr. Page said. “That was my main concern.”

This left FYN with more questions than answers, considering that none of the emergency agencies listed in the letter had been notified that an active shooter drill had been scheduled.

Hiawassee Police Department, Towns County EMS, Towns County Fire and Rescue, and Towns County EMA state that their departments expect to take part in future training exercises.

 

 

 

 

Towns County EMS grateful for community donations

Community, News
Towns County EMS GA

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) is an integral agency to the well-being of the community, tasked with the responsibility of urgent response care at any given notice. Paramedics work long hours, often 24-48 hour shifts, and while county taxes fund the equipment necessary to perform medical duties, citizen donations provide appreciated comforts.

Donations are typically received “on scene” or delivered to EMS headquarters on Jack Dayton Circle in Young Harris. The contributions are then deposited in the county’s general fund, earmarked for the department to spend.

Towns County EMS

Pellet grill purchased by EMS. thanks to citizen donations

Towns County EMS Director Ken Nicholson and Paramedic Jim Shirley, along with the full medical responder division, would like to thank the community for the generous donations that they have received this year. A total of $595.00 was bestowed to Towns County EMS, allowing the department to purchase a pellet grill, cookware, and additional items for the ambulance dispatch station. Additionally, a local non-profit agency gifted the department with plates, utensils, and other components which help to make their “home-away-from-home” workplace more comfortable.

“We greatly appreciate any of the donations that we receive,” Jim Shirley expressed, “We don’t expect anything, but we appreciate everything.”

Feature Photo: (L-R) Towns County EMS Director Ken Nicholson with Towns County Paramedic Jim Shirley

 

Towns County to upgrade ambulance module

News
Towns County EMS

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County opened enveloped bids on the purchase of a modernized ambulance module for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) providers, receiving two proposals from out-of-state companies. Towns County Paramedic Jim Shirley spoke on the issue Tuesday, Oct. 16, stating that the purchase will ultimately save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars over time. According to Shirley, the module is expected to function for a lifespan of 25 to 30 years.

Shirley explained that the current module, which is the ambulance area where the patients are transported, has experienced numerous issues, such as leaking and electrical difficulties, with remounts necessary on a frequent basis.

While the first bid, sent from a company located in Arkansas, did not include an actual quote, Towns County plans to contact the company to request a figure. The second bid, offered from a company based in Houston, TX, quoted slightly above $138,000 as the cost for the module.

The updated module will carry twice the capacity than the current , necessary in the event of a multi-casualty accident, and will be constructed of steel. Shirley explained that the module in current operation is contructed of wood. The module will feature a generator and bright LED lighting, allowing medics to function more efficiently in dimly-lit emergency situations.

The cab and chassis of the ambulance will be purchased through Jacky Jones dealership, an automotive company from where Towns County currently acquires government vehicles. The process of the ambulance becoming operational is expected to take approximately nine months.

While Shirley acknowledged that Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw is ultra-conservative in spending taxpayer funds, the paramedic praised the commissioner’s decision to purchase the upgraded ambulance. “I’m thankful the commissioner looks to the future, and not behind us,” Shirley said.

Feature Photo: A Towns County ambulance currently in service

 

BREAKING: Hatchet Attack Leads to Arrest of Teenager

News
Hatchet Attack Towns County

Hiawassee, GA –  Towns County Sheriff’s Office, Fire and Rescue, and EMS responded to a call on Cassie Lane during the afternoon hours of Wednesday, September 20,  concerning a report of domestic violence.

Upon arrival, first responders found a man bleeding from a hatchet attack, allegedly committed by his teenage son. The unidentified male sustained multiple injuries as the result of several blows, including at least one to the head.

The alleged suspect fled the scene before deputies arrived. He was located and taken into custody shortly thereafter.

The alleged victim was transported by Air Life for medical treatment. His current condition is unknown at this time.

Fetch Your News is awaiting an official statement from the Towns County Sheriff’s Office and will provide further information as it becomes available.

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