Ward residents will soon have a new ambulance service when Allied Ambulance Service merges with Southern Paramedic Services of Stuttgart; the merger should be in effect by Sunday. The decision to agree to the merger, and transfer the service contract to Southern was made Monday during the Ward City Council meeting.

Also, the new Ward Police Department drug-detection dog was presented to the council at the meeting.

Aldermen Bill Moon, James Weir, Jeff Shaver, Gary Matheny, Ron Bissett and Don Howard attended the meeting, presided by Mayor Art Brooke.

Ward Police officer Joey Sneed introduced the council to “Tanni,” a two-year-old American Pit Bull Terrier that is trained in drug detection. Sneed explained that Tanni, though worth $13,500, was donated to the city, through Universal K9s.

Later, Chief of Police Steve Benton explained the Universal K9s combines its work with that of a Pit Bull rescue organization, to provide specially trained dogs free to law enforcement.

Obtaining Tanni was a matter of submitting a grant request, Sneed said.

Sneed said he attended nearly two weeks of training to work with Tanni, in a “single-purpose” program. She is not a “bite” dog, and searches only for particular drugs, he said.

On the ambulance service, Meadows said he and owner and founder, Linda Meadows had decided that it was time to retire from the service. With that in mind, they had decided to accept an offer to merge with Southern Paramedic Services, Meadows said.

Southern is headquartered at Stuttgart, and serves six counties, with operation at Carlisle and Lonoke in Lonoke County. Information from Southern also lists backup services to Jacksonville and Little Rock Air Force Base.

Meadows said he asked the city to not only approve the merger but also award an extension to the 18 months remaining on the Allied contract. Limiting the service to the time left on the contract would not justify the cost of transferring the service, he explained.

To a limited extent, Southern has already operated at Ward while providing support to Allied when needed, Meadow said. “You’ve seen [Southern] ambulances in Ward before.”

Southern Paramedic owner Gary Padgett assured the council that all the contract requirements would be provided at the agreed upon cost.

Southern was given national accreditation this year, making it one of only a few nationally accredited ambulance services in the state, Padgett said. The requirements are “tough” to meet for a company the size of Southern; there are 178 nationally and four in Arkansas to gain accreditation, he said.

Southern has about 30 ambulances, with the oldest a 2014 series, and operates a 24-hour dispatch system, Padgett said

“It’s hard on us,” Meadows remarked on his and Linda’s decision. “We’ve loved doing it … We just can’t jump up at 3 in the morning when it’s 12 degrees anymore,” Meadows said in remarks.

“The City of Ward has been good to us … the citizens have been good to us; we’ve got good people around here,” Meadows said.

The Council approved a resolution modifying the ambulance contract, extending it by five years.

After the meeting, Brooke said he had been advised that it was acceptable to modify the contract without requesting bids from other services. “Nothing has changed except the name. We can extend the contract without [a request for bids].”