The Conway Fire Department is moving forward in adding an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Division following the city's approval to create a new assistant fire chief's position to head the up-and-coming division.
The fire department currently has three divisions — training, operations and fire marshals's division.
Fire Chief Mike Winter went before the Conway City Council on Tuesday, requesting authorization to allocate funds to cover an assistant chief's position to lead the newly established EMS Division.
"I am requesting a new position within the department — an assistant chief's position to head the new division within the department," Winter said during Tuesday's meeting. "With the approval in the 2018 budget to start a paramedic program, I am asking for this position to lay the foundation and establish the program within the Conway Fire Department."
The council OK'd the request and unanimously voted in favor of the proposal.
"Chief Winter, it's a good road you're headed down," Mayor Bart Castleberry said. "It's going to save people's lives."
Castleberry started the initiative that triggered this transition years ago when he served as the city's fire chief.
As fire chief, Castleberry instilled a basic Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) course for firefighters to take. Those standards later upgraded to intermediate training and have been in place for more than 15 years.
The next step up would be to allow firefighters to be trained as paramedics, Winter said.
This transition, would improve the city's ability to serve Conway residents, he said.
Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services (MEMS) works out of two stations in the city. The fire department has an upper hand, with seven stations scattered approximately two and a half miles apart.
Winter said Conway firefighters often arrive on scene before MEMS and that this additional training could potentially save lives.
"This will be very beneficial to the citizens of Conway," he said. "Most of the time, we arrive on scene prior to MEMS. With advanced care, we are hoping it [will saves lives]. To get there and be able to start advanced treatments ... hopefully [we'll have victims] ready for MEMS to transport when they arrive."
Battalion Chief Jerry Gipson, who has served CFD for 21 years, said he sees this transition acting positively for the city.
"This should make a huge difference," he said. "MEMS has two stations and Conway, and we are more strategically placed with seven."
Gipson will step up from his battalion chief position into the role as the city's new CFD EMS assistant chief. He will officially take on the new role Feb. 4.
"I'm excited to receive this promotion," he said, noting he plans to held lead the fire department "to the next level."
Conway aldermen voted in favor Tuesday of allocating $100,017.43 to the new position, which will cover the new assistant chief's salary and benefits.
Winter said the training process will be incremental, with 10 firefighters set to receive paramedic training in the fall.
The ultimate goal, he said, is to have Advanced Life Support (ALS) engine companies at each of Conway's seven stations.