By GENNA NEWMAN FREED
TIFFIN — Leaders in Seneca County met Saturday to hear ideas about restructuring the county’s emergency medical services and paying those who staff ambulances.
More than 50 people, including county commissioners, township trustees, emergency medical service personnel, other leaders and county residents gathered in the Public Safety Building at the Seneca County Fairgrounds in Tiffin.
Seneca County EMS Director Ken Majors presented two options for leaders to consider. The first would be to form three or four joint ambulance districts. The second option would be a countywide ambulance service.
The county currently has seven ambulance squads, but only four of the seven have enough manpower to be staffed more than 50 percent of the time.
The seven squads were established in 1978 in an agreement between the county commissioners, village and township governments.
Besides the seven volunteer squads, the county has the Seneca County Echo Paramedic Response. The Echo unit runs from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and is hoping to increase that to 24 hours in the future.
Providing adequate manpower for the county’s ambulance squads “has become a critical need,” Majors said. Seneca County leaders need to “make sure two people are in the ambulance 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said.
The ambulance manpower problem must be resolved, county Commissioner Fred Zoeller said.
“When we fail, somebody dies. That’s when failure really hits,” Zoeller said. “Your loved one is out there having a heart attack and you’re on the phone but that ambulance is out of service. Now they’ve got to come from wherever and that person dies. What would you think? What would you want to do? That’s when failure hits is when someone dies, and that’s what we’re talking about here is life and death.”
While ambulance manpower is going down, the number of ambulance calls is going up.
“Thirty years ago when somebody called EMS, that person was dying or they got hurt really bad,” said Nate Blaser, Bloomville fire chief and a 30-year EMS veteran. “Today when somebody calls EMS they may have tripped over a rug and broke their finger. The volume of calls is going up greatly, so we need more people than we did then because we have a lot more calls to make.”
Lorrie Dymond, EMS squad coordinator for Bettsville, said the best way to increase ambulance personnel is compensation for the volunteers.
Majors said forming joint ambulance districts could help with organization, and with providing money to pay volunteers.
An example of a joint ambulance district would be joining the village of Attica, Venice Township and Reed Township, he said. They would each keep their EMS service as is, and create a board consisting of one member from each township or village which would meet to discuss any issues occurring in their district, scheduling and staffing, paying bills and more.
Another joint district could be Bloom Township and Bloomville, he said. Pleasant, Adams, Green Springs, Scipio and Republic could form another combination.
As EMS director, Majors said he would attend all of the individual district meetings, and create an assistant EMS director to help with the billing and coordination of the districts.
The county would continue to provide equipment for EMS operations, such as vehicles, medical equipment, and fuel, and the districts would be responsible for providing two certified emergency medical technicians per unit, Majors said.
In addition to the county’s contribution, more money would be needed so joint ambulance districts could pay expenses and volunteers, Majors said. The joint districts could each have a levy, or there could be a countywide EMS levy, if voters would support it.
The Bascom Joint Ambulance District already exists in Seneca County and uses a 1.2-mill levy for its funding. The district includes Hopewell Township, Loudon Township and the village of Bascom.
Majors suggested Jackson Township, Liberty Township and the village of Bettsville might join the Bascom district.
The district pays its volunteers $3.50 per hour, 24 hours a day. There are nearly 30 volunteers and more on waiting lists.
Another option would be a countywide ambulance district.
Majors said the biggest difference between joint ambulance districts and a countywide district would be control of the organization.
He pictured a countywide district as having a large board and a fiscal officer “trying to decide on things for seven different ambulances. That meeting would become very cumbersome and it would be very difficult to make decisions.”
The benefit of joint ambulance districts would be continuing “local control over a squad that you know and the community that you live in,” he said.
Many who attended Saturday’s meeting questioned this, and wondered if having one countywide ambulance board could provide more consistency.