Every 911 call the Whitehall Division of Fire receives is treated as an emergency -- but it may turn out not to be a life-or-death event.

To handle such calls, Whitehall has created the new position of community paramedic.

Randy Jones, a 17-year-veteran of the Whitehall Division of Fire, stepped into the role of Whitehall's full-time community paramedic April 10, though he had been preparing for it for more than a year.

"I'm always looking for ways we can improve and this new program helps the community and our fire department," said Jones, 38, who was recruited for the job.

The position is designed to provide medical advice and assistance to patients during incidents that aren't life-threatening while protecting the department's resources, said Whitehall Assistant Fire Chief Chris Menapace.

After a change in state law in 2015 made the position possible, Paul Zeeb, the medical director of MECMES, an 18-department consortium of fire districts, told Menapace and Chief Preston Moore that he wanted Jones to be part of a pilot program for community paramedics throughout central Ohio.

The new law was required "to allow paramedics and other EMS providers to render services to citizens outside of the traditional emergency situations," Menapace said.

Without a community paramedic, Menapace said, there were instances in which nonemergency episodes too often tapped the resources of a department's life-support resources and hospitals' emergency rooms.

"The whole system suffers," he said.

In rarer instances, a community paramedic can resolve noncompliance problems when people misuse 911 for purposes that may not be health-related, Menapace said.

"Randy bridges the gap for us between 911 calls that require transport to an ER and those that are for people who just need help with prescriptions or medication management," Menapace said.

Whitehall firefighters -- and sometimes police officers -- will identify people whom Jones can help.

Jones began with a list of nine patients on his first day, but that list is expected to grow.

The patients Jones saw the first week included a woman he helped to make modifications designed to lower the risk of falls inside her residence.

He also worked with the family of a man who requires 24-hour care to have 911 calls initiated by a medical alarm first verified by the care provider.

Jones expects to help others in ways that range from arranging rides to a pharmacy or doctor's office to helping patients properly take medications.

He said the new position is a perfect match for him -- something other people recognized on his behalf.

"(The chiefs) told me that (Zeeb) asked if I was interested in the pilot program for a community paramedic and I said 'absolutely,' " Jones said.

Jones said he is the fourth community paramedic in the pilot program that's still underway.

A community paramedic began service last month in Mifflin Township and last year in Truro and Violet townships, Jones said.

Throughout last year, Jones maintained his job as a Whitehall paramedic and firefighter, working 24-hours-on, 48-hours-off shifts while completing the 200 hours of training required to become a community medic.

Training included rotations in hospital emergency rooms, pharmacies, hospices and addiction-related counseling centers, Menapace said.

As a community paramedic, Jones participates in the Heroin Overdose Prevention Education task force through the Franklin County Sheriff's Office.

As they are identified, Jones will have the opportunity to educate addicts about the long-range effects of drug abuse and find resources for help.

Jones said he looks forward to developing a network of patients and an even deeper well of resources to assist them.