A new ambulance company has set up its headquarters in Knoxville and is drawing in more employees everyday from its competitors.
The newly established Priority Ambulance company has brought in more than 50 EMTs, paramedics, and support staff from Rural/Metro and other companies since it opened just a few weeks ago.
CEO Bryan Gibson said they plan to grow into a nationwide company. Wednesday, Gibson announced his intention to purchase Kunkel Ambulance Service of Utica, N.Y. Priority currently operates 911 and non-emergency transport in Florence, Alabama as Shoals Ambulance.
"This [Knoxville] is the national headquarters. We want to be a very large ambulance company in this market, in the five-county area," Gibson said.
Gibson said he is offering $5,000 bonuses to recruit the best employees. He said about 20 employees, mostly Rural/Metro employees, from Knox County, five from Blount County, and three from Loudon County have joined their company.
"We're not targeting any one company. We're hiring from everybody," he said.
10News heard from emergency workers and on social media from people who are concerned about recent layoffs in the last company Gibson worked for.
Just three months ago, Gibson was CEO of First Med ambulance service headquartered in Wilmington, North Carolina that operated under many different names in 70 municipalities in six states.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy filings in the Eastern District of North Carolina under the name American Ambulette and Ambulance Service, Inc. show the company had $70 million in debt and had to shut down in December.
It left many communities scrambling to find medical transportation and 2,000 employees without a job. It caused Bertie County, North Carolina to declare a state of emergency.
"I found out on Facebook and from a co-worker that I no longer had a job. I am absolutely devastated. I don't know what I'm going to do," Stacey Carpenter, a former First Med dispatcher in Wilmington, told NBC affiliate WECT.
A class action lawsuit claims employees are still owed money.
Gibson said he was brought in to turn First Med around, just four months before they filed for bankruptcy.
"We did the best we could. The company and the investors in that company were totally upside down. We notified the companies as soon as we could that we were going to have to file for bankruptcy. But we were fighting to the bitter end and so it was really tough to be able to give a lot of notice and the warrant acts did go out. I don't believe it was 2,000 [employees]. It was bad. I think it was 900, but I don't believe it was 2,000," Gibson said.
A lawsuit also alleges Gibson had been moving ambulances to his personal private ambulance business in Alabama and here to East Tennessee before the company filed for bankruptcy.
"Those allegations are unfounded," he said.
Priority is non-emergency transport only right now, but Gibson says he plans to pursue emergency contracts with counties and cities when the time comes.
Gibson said Enhanced Equity, the same company that financed First Med, has funded Priority.