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Gwinnett Fire scores rare national accreditation

Staff Photo: John Bohn Gwinnett County fire Chief/Director Bill Myers speaks during a press conference to announce the recent accreditation of the Department of Fire and Emergency Services' paramedic training program, at Gwinnett Fire Headquarters in Lawrenceville on Wednesday.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Gwinnett County fire Chief/Director Bill Myers speaks during a press conference to announce the recent accreditation of the Department of Fire and Emergency Services' paramedic training program, at Gwinnett Fire Headquarters in Lawrenceville on Wednesday.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Gwinnett County firefighter/paramedic Alex Trujillo of Engine Company and Medic 15, takes part in treating a simulated victim of an automobile accident. Minutes earlier, Gwinnett County Fire Chief/Director Bill Myers announced at a press conference, the recent accreditation of the Department of Fire and Emergency Services' paramedic training program, at Gwinnett Fire Headquarters in Lawrenceville on Wednesday.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Soon, calling 911 in Gwinnett should come with extra peace of mind.

Georgia's largest fire service district -- Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services -- is the state's first to receive national accreditation for its paramedic training program. Save a department in West Virginia, Gwinnett's department is the only one to be so honored in the Southeast, Chief Bill Myers said at a Wednesday press conference.

The rare designation means the department will be held to a more stringent set of training standards for paramedics, which comprise about 25 percent of current employees. The first class is set to graduate the 14-month program in March.

To have better-trained personnel on fire trucks and ambulances will translate to lower insurance premiums for Gwinnett residents and better, swifter care, the chief said.

The department began a yearlong process of self-evaluation in 2010, ending with a weeklong evaluation by the Committee on Accreditation for Emergency Medical Service Professionals. A passing grade elevated Gwinnett's department to join a handful in the country to be nationally accredited, said Keith Wages, Georgia's EMS state director.

"Not only has Gwinnett been a leader in Georgia," Wages said, "but you're a leader in the country."

The only other institution in Georgia to carry the designation is Gwinnett Technical College, which will partner with the fire department to offer trained paramedics up to 42 credit hours toward associate degrees in paramedicine.

Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash waxed nostalgic at the press conference about the department's humble beginnings in 1971.

"It's so fascinating to think about and see how things have progressed," Nash said.