Leslie Youmans spends her days worried, vigilantly watching for a fall or bump on the head that most parents would brush off. The Newberry mother of four knows all too well that every second counts for children with life-threatening illnesses.
Her 5-year-old daughter Harper has an extremely rare disease called Rett syndrome that she describes as “cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, all in one little body.” Her youngest son, Emmett, has Chiari malformation, meaning his brain stem and spinal column collide. She said the fragility and medical needs of both children mean Youmans is always watching, ready to call 911 or whisk them away to a hospital.
With the addition of the Newberry Fire Department’s 13th rescue unit on Monday, her fears are easing somewhat. The vehicle, Rescue 28, will provide 24-hour transportation and lifesaving services to Newberry and surrounding areas.
Jeff Taylor, the acting deputy chief of the Alachua County Fire Rescue, said the starting cost for the new vehicle was $950,000, with recurring costs of about $650,000 yearly. He said the goal is for the standardized rig to reduce the average response time for medical services in Newberry from 18 minutes to less than 12.
It’s been more than a decade since the last rescue unit was added to the fleet, Taylor said, and Newberry’s growth has compounded the need for a new truck and contributed to longer response times. He said the fire rescue answers about 42,000 calls each year, a number that is just as daunting as it sounds.
“We budget needs; we don’t budget wants,” Taylor said. “This (rescue unit) was a need for the community, so we worked together with the county, and it just worked out this year.”
Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said he has been frustrated that it took so long to add this unit to handle the higher volume of calls.
“The core of government is providing essential services, and it was a failure of the government for it to have taken this long,” Marlowe said. “I will always feel bad that it has taken this long to gather the data, save the money, all these kind of things needed (to obtain a new unit).”
For Youmans, the rescue unit arrived not a moment too soon.
While she hasn’t needed to call for emergency medical transport yet, she said her children’s risks and needs can change and intensify as they grow older. The faster response time could make a life-or-death difference for her family, she said.
“Every minute counts; every single minute counts,” she said. “Shortening the time frame it takes for (rescue units) to get there if Harper has an irregular heart rhythm or seizure…every minute counts.”