Deputy Director Darrell Payne retires after 38 years

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Darrell Payne retirement

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Deputy Director Darrell Payne stated it’s been an honor to serve the people of Fannin as part of emergency services.

Payne’s seen EMS goes through several changes over the years and commended EMS employees and volunteers for their efforts. He added that Fannin has one of the best EMS departments in the state.

“It’s a role that you never know what you’re going to see when you go out there,” Chairman Jamie Hensley said, “We appreciate the job you’ve done for this county.”

Post One Johnny Scearce detailed his experiences working with Payne since they first started in their respective departments. He told Payne, “It has been an honor.”

EMA Director Robert Graham gave Payne a watch to recognize his years of service.

Becky Huffman will be replacing Payne as EMS deputy director. Huffman’s the first female to hold the role.

Hensley explained that several people interviewed for the position, and everyone brought something unique to the role. However, Huffman earned the job.

“She doesn’t care to come in there and tell me how she feels, sometimes that’s good, sometimes that bad. I appreciate that about her. I think she sees both sides and she’s going to do what’s best for both,” Hensley commented.

Huffman’s first order of business in her new role was to ask permission to bid out to replace an existing ambulance. They need to replace a truck and then remount the existing ambulance box on a new chassis.

Fire Department Update

Fire Chief Larry Thomas gave a good update concerning ISO rating. After speaking with the inspection manager, Fannin is expected to drop back down to a 5/5x rating. The new number will be published in November 2021.

COVID-19 resulted in a slow down of processing rate updates, but the manager told Thomas that he was pushing Fannin through.

“It takes work of water departments, 911, and the fire department. Everybody’s involved,” Thomas explained about the process.

Hensley asked for Thomas to create a list of all the steps necessary to drop down to a 4 ISO rating. It would give the commissioners a tangible goal to strive for in the future.

Thomas also presented quotes for a new squad vehicle and moving the current car into more of a utility vehicle role. The county approved the purchase of the lower quote from Blue Ridge Ford for $32,700.

Positive news concerning COVID-19 in Fannin

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COVID-19 positive

BLUE RIDGE, Ga: The status of COVID-19 in Fannin appears to be trending in the right direction as positive cases begin to drop and vaccine providers become more readily available.

According to EMA Director Robert Graham, 11 percent of tests are coming back positive, but the health department is no longer giving COVID-19 tests. As a result, the capacity for administering tests might have decreased. The state still considers Fannin to be a high transmission county.

The health department transitioned to providing vaccines and partnered with the Kiwanis Club to use their fairgrounds as a vaccine location. Five days a week, the health department takes scheduled COVID-19 vaccine appointments at the fairgrounds. However, no one can currently sign up for a vaccine reservation because the health department’s waiting on more vaccines.

Vaccine availability depends on national supply. North Georgia Health Department spokesperson stated “We urge residents who are eligible for the vaccine but have not yet registered for an appointment to monitor our website and social media pages on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates as additional appointment times become available. All existing appointments are still valid.

“Definitely want to thank the Kiwanis Club for working with us. I think it’s a testament to our community that we were able to reach out to someone like that, and they were more than gracious to help us out. We needed a large facility like that,” Chairman Jamie Hensley stated.

On Tuesday, February 9, Fannin had a total of 18,062 cases, with 133 confirmed over the last 14 days. The COVID-19 variant hasn’t reached the county yet. Health officials claimed the current vaccine protects against the variant as well.

At the Fannin Regional Hospital, 15 percent of total visits are COVID-19 related. ICU capacity is between 80 to 100 percent with extended stays in the unit. The hospital’s experiencing 70 percent capacity on the medical-surgical wing, but bed availability increased over the last 24 hours. On any given day, the pending positive cases for COVID-19 range from 30 percent to 80 percent.

On Tuesday, Fannin Regional issued 404 COVID-19 vaccines.

The state granted Fannin Fire and EMS vaccine provider status, and they’ve administered 522 doses with 600 doses order. However, half of the ordered amount will serve as second vaccinations.

“Whether we get it or not, I don’t know or how long it will be before we get it, but hopefully, we’ll get some of it coming in next week,” Graham said.

Fannin EMS’s list of individuals requesting the vaccine exceeds 270 as of Tuesday. More people call in each day.

Currently, only Phase1A+ Georgians can receive the vaccine, so people who are 65 and older, a caregiver of a senior citizen, healthcare workers, law enforcement, public safety, and first responders.

Once the state opens vaccine distribution to educators, Fannin EMS and schools have created a plan to vaccinate the district’s employees at the schools. To lighten the health department’s load, they’ve offered to vaccinate utility companies like Tri-State Electric.

Georgia’s setting up some mass vaccination sites around the state, but not close to Fannin for the moment, Graham added.

No one in the fire department, EMS, or 911 is currently COVID-19 positive. Graham believes it showcases the care his employees are taking with their health and others.

Georgia Mountains Health Services also offers the vaccine to patients who make an appointment.


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