By Steve Short
Gibson County has a new director of Emergency Medical Services (EMS).
Dan Fowlkes, 42, was introduced to the County Commission Monday morning, Nov. 18 in Trenton. He succeeds Starr Austin who served in the position nine years.
A Dyersburg resident with 20 years in emergency services, Fowlkes will begin Dec. 2. He served five years as director and several years as supervisor at the Dyer County Medical Center.
“I’m looking forward to this new venture and new chapter in my life,” Fowlkes told commissioners. “I’m excited about coming over here. It was a hard decision. I’ve been there a long time. But after talking with the mayor (Tom Witherspoon) and Starr (Austin) and finding out everything, I think we have a great system here already. I just look forward to making it even better. Thank you for this opportunity.”
“We appreciate you being here; glad to have you on board,” said Witherspoon as commissioners applauded Fowlkes.
Witherspoon said the county advertised for the EMS Director position and received resumes from 26 candidates.
“We wanted to make sure we hired the most qualified candidate available,” he said. After the EMS committee narrowed the list of applicants to three, Witherspoon was authorized to hire a new director.
“We were seeking the best EMS director we could come up with, and I think we’ve got a really good one,” said Witherspoon. “He’s got good credentials, and his references are impeccable.”
Fowlkes grew up in Dyersburg and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from UT Martin. He is Tennessee Ventilator certified Paramedic and EMT instructor assistant. He’s worked in EMS since 2000.
Fowlkes said an uncle who led a local rescue squad steered him to the EMS field.
“He talked me into becoming a first responder and volunteer, and I just fell in love with it, and I’ve just gone from there,” he said.
Fowlkes and his wife, Tyla have two sons, Zach, 22 and Will, 13. He is a member of the Dyersburg Cumberland Presbyterian Church and a volunteer with the Dyer County Community Cancer Fund.
As EMS Director, Fowlkes will oversee about 50 employees (36 full-time employees) and a budget of about $4.1 million in expenditures. Gibson County EMS operates five ambulances full time, 24 hours daily. A sixth ambulance operates Monday through Friday, 10 hours daily. The county EMS has taken on a larger role transporting patients in recent years due to the closing of all hospitals in the county except Milan.
During the transition of directors, Fowlkes will be assisted by outgoing Austin who resigned in September and is working as a Registered Nurse at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital. Austin was commended by officials Monday and applauded by commissioners for her nine years of service as EMS Director.
“Director Austin is leaving on good terms and moving on to greener pastures,” said Witherspoon. “I wish her the best in the pursuit of her nursing career. I think we owe her a round of applause. Starr graciously agreed to stay around on an interim, part-time basis until a search was conducted and a new directed found.”
A resolution asking to raise the EMS Director’s salary to $70,000 plus about $2,500 in benefits was tabled by commissioners Monday. Officials said Fowlkes accepted the position with a salary of $60,000. Austin’s salary was $54,530. Salaries of Austin and Fowlkes will overlap during a transition period, which is expected to last a few weeks. The salary increase proposal may be back on the commission agenda in January.
“I felt like, and many members of the EMS committee felt like the salary for that (Director) position should be at least as close as we can get to what a new hire, paramedic made,” Witherspoon said. “As it is now, we’re still not there.”