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Georgia veterans answer 911 calls as first responders get stretched during coronavirus pandemic

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For one Good Samaritan group in southern Georgia, good things come in threes.

The coronavirus has sickened 19,398 people in Georgia and killed 774 people as of this writing, straining the resources of first responders.

The Community Warriors, a volunteer group known for its benevolent deeds in and around Columbus, Ga. have stepped up once again to help its neighbors and provide relief for first responders.

The group of mostly veterans has answered the call to assist 911 and the Columbus Fire and EMS by dispatching three person teams to respond to nonemergency calls.

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“Because of the pandemic, his staff [interim fire Chief Greg Lang’s] is getting stretched a little bit more,” Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson said. 

Interim fire Chief Greg Lang [left] with Columbus EMS staff

Interim fire Chief Greg Lang [left] with Columbus EMS staff

“I tell you those guys [The Community Warriors] are exactly what they bill themselves as,” Henderson added. “They are warriors for the people in their community.”

Columbus EMS operates a lift assistance program which aids mostly senior citizens with mobility issues. EMS responders help seniors who may have fallen and need help getting to another part of their home such as from the bed to the bathroom.

In the last few months, interim fire Chief Greg Lang has seen a rise in these calls and a strain on his staff.

“Anytime we’re rolling either our big red truck out for that or our ambulance you know it’s taking away from them to actually respond to real emergencies,” said Chief Lang, whose department receives anywhere from 15 to 25 lift assist calls a month in addition to what Lang averages to be 100 calls a day for emergency medical services.

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“Not that those are not [emergencies] but those are not critical calls. Taking them [first responders] off those calls, it’s putting them in service to be more responsive to calls that are going to come in that are life threatening,” said Lang.

Columbus Fire and Emergency Medical Services truck

Columbus Fire and Emergency Medical Services truck

Lang looked to the mayor for help and in less than two weeks a partnership between Columbus Fire and EMS, 911 and The Community Warriors was established.

City councilor Pops Barnes believed The Community Warriors was an obvious choice.

“We brainstormed on how to make this work because there were a lot of things involved,” said Barnes.

The volunteers were primed for action by a number of groups, including the River Valley Regional Commission’s Area Agency on Aging, ResCare which trained volunteers on proper patient transfer, United Way and MercyMed which tested volunteers for COVID-19.

“To see the people during this pandemic pull together like this, help each other, it’s just awesome,” said Barnes. “It gives you a renewed hope in this human spirit.”

Volunteers also underwent criminal background checks and are protected by the Good Samaritan law.

The Community Warriors has four core teams of three volunteers who rotate being on call seven days a week from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm for the lift assist program. One team, Queen Love, has answered 911 calls for the first time. The trio includes two veterans.

Community Warriors volunteers Carman Moss (center), Hellen Smoaks (left) and Lucy Collier (right).

Community Warriors volunteers Carman Moss (center), Hellen Smoaks (left) and Lucy Collier (right).

Retired Army sergeant Hellen Smoaks admits she felt unsure when she received their first call.

“We had an elderly lady she was on the bathroom floor and she couldn’t get up herself,” said Smoaks. “Her daughter or her grandson couldn’t help her get up, so we went in and got her up and got her on the toilet and when she finished we put her back in her bedroom.”

Smoaks was accompanied by teammates Lucy Collier, team captain and Army veteran, and Carman Moss. Smoaks recalls the elderly lady’s daughter being surprised to see three women at her door to assist her mother.

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“When the lady came out she was like, ‘Oh my God, we need a man.’ So when we went in and picked her [mother] up I guess she was like, ‘Well, we really don’t need a man.’ Yes, because we’re like ex-military so we got a little strength left.”

Queen Love responded to another call from a citizen who had fallen out of her chair. The elderly woman was alone except for a Schnauzer. She spilled her food and the volunteers purchased her a meal.

“It was really exciting to do something new and for everybody to be thankful we helped today,” said Smoaks. “It was rewarding in that way. Very rewarding.”

The assist from The Community Warriors lightens the load on first responders and helps the lift assist program continue. Chief Lang is grateful for the helping hand.

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“They [The Community Warriors] were really supportive trying to help us with the situation that we had mainly because not only are we responding to emergency calls, fire and electrical and brushfires," he said. "And with our medical calls and then now you have the coronavirus calls that we’re having, that just kind of compounded the issue. And so them doing what they’re doing for us right now, we’re very thankful.”