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Knox Co. deactivates Emergency Ops Center after dealing with sudden shortage of ambulances

The Knoxville Fire Department said it and Rural Metro were triaging EMS calls in the city and county due to a shortage of ambulances.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Knox County first responders activated the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to deal with a sudden shortage of ambulances on Tuesday. By 8 p.m., Assistant Chief Mark Wilbanks with the Knoxville Fire Department said it was deactivated.

According to Colin Ickes, director of Knoxville-Knox County Emergency Management Agency, KFD reached out to EMA saying they had multiple patients waiting for an ambulance around 4:15 p.m. on Tuesday. 

The EOC was "partially activated", requesting assistance from other EMS agencies at 4:30 p.m. Overall, representatives from Knoxville Fire Department, Rural Metro Fire Department, Karns Fire Department, American Medical Response, Knox County Health Department and Knoxville-Knox County Emergency Management Agency were in the EOC or virtually participating and worked to triage emergency calls as they came in.

According to Wilbanks with the Knoxville Fire Department, it and Knox County Rural Metro are helping local ambulance services to fill in where priorities are needed. Wilbanks said KFD was triaging city EMS calls, and Rural Metro was triaging county EMS calls. 

According to Ickes, four ambulances from outside agencies assisted and responded to emergencies in Knox County and transported patients to hospitals during the activation.

Knox County spokesperson Mike Donila said Mayor Glenn Jacobs' office had also met with AMR and EOC officials after learning about the shortage. He also said the senior leadership from the health department, the Knox County Public Safety Director and other members of the mayor's staff were in the EOC to work through the situation.

“We are aware of the situation and we are working through it," Donila said.

The EOC is typically activated during large events that require cross-coordination efforts between multiple first responder agencies in the area, such as severe weather.

American Medical Response also released a statement about the sudden shortage of ambulances, saying they saw a high amount of 911 calls Tuesday afternoon exceeding their available resources.

AMR's full statement is available below.

"Knox County experienced a high volume of 911 calls this afternoon that exceeded the capacity of available resources. The EOC was partially activated as is protocol, and mutual aid was requested from other EMS providers in the region to assist with the sudden increase in demand. We have received assistance from several neighboring counties and have implemented local policies, including surging at local EDs to rapidly offload patients as appropriate, and placing all credentialed personnel on ambulances. We would like to thank all agencies for their assistance and prompt action to ensure the community was well protected during this time."

"As soon as the current circumstances resolve, we will begin conversations with AMR on how this can be avoided in the future," Donila said.

This story is developing and will be updated as more information becomes available.

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