Ambulance service unsettles citizens

By BOB JOHNSON
and
RICHARD LUKEN
Register Reporters

Allen County commissioners were taken to task Tuesday morning by citizens who fumed about the direction of ambulance service.
“I’m confused,” said Darrel Catron, who said he came to have his say “just as a citizen.” Catron is mayor of Gas and a member of the USD 257 Board of Education.
“I think putting ambulances on State Street,” at the old Heartland Rural Electric Cooperative building, “is duplication,” Catron said. “You have Iola ambulances three blocks away,” operated from the Iola fire station.
Catron said he thought it would be better to station county ambulances at the abandoned elementary school in LaHarpe, or in Gas to give better coverage outside of Iola.
“We didn’t duplicate services,” said Dick Works, county commission chairman. “The county provided service for all of the county for 40 years and then, last December, Iola started its own service,” which he thinks may be short-lived. “That was the duplication.
“I think Iola will pull out” of the ambulance business, Works predicted, without elaboration.
City officials have said they would review the financial stability of its service in December.
As to stationing county ambulances in Iola, Works noted the bulk of the county’s population was in or near Iola and “we also have to think about the northwest part of the county.” Other county ambulances are in Humboldt and Moran.
“How much are you going to spend,” to keep ambulances in Iola, Catron asked.
“A bunch,” Works replied.
The county spent $185,000 for the building at 410 N. State and passed a resolution to authorize up to $400,000 in general obligation bonds to refit the building for 911 dispatch and an emergency operations center and do whatever was necessary to house ambulances and crews there.
Also on Tuesday commissioners authorized County Counselor Alan Weber to complete paperwork that might bring $139,000 in federal economic recovery money to the county for facility upgrades.
Weber cautioned that the federal money should be approached gingerly. He noted federal regulations might push costs higher than they would be without the federal money because of provisions of the Davis-Bacon Act, which regulates wages in federally funded projects.
“We have looked at all the pluses and minuses of the State Street building and several others and decided that down the road this one looked best,” Commissioner Gary McIntosh said, in response to a question about planning.
“If you’re going to bet on the future, maybe you should wait and see what Iola is going to do,” Catron said, in reference to Works’ forecast that the city eventually would retire from ambulance service.
The county’s prediction that Iola’s ambulance would fold raised a few eyebrows later Tuesday at the Iola City Commission meeting.
“We have no intention” of ending the city’s service, Mayor Bill Maness replied.

LAST WEEK Delmer Sarver, who noted he had lived in or near Iola 82 of his 85 years, dislocated a hip while playing golf at Cedarbrook.
He told commissioners he was confused about why an Iola ambulance took him only to Allen County Hospital, where he had to wait by his count an hour and 10 minutes for an Allen County ambulance to transfer him to Parsons for treatment by an orthopedic specialist.
The wait was tortuous, Sarver said, but his complaint was more the folly of county and Iola both having ambulance services.
“I thought we were getting along well when the county had the whole thing,” Sarver said.
“The problem isn’t at this desk,” Works said.
McIntosh offered that when Iola’s governing body was reconstructed, result of the successful referendum to increase from three commissioners to eight councilmen and a mayor, “I think things are going to change.”
Bill Mentzer, who mentioned a situation in his family similar to Sarver’s, noted, “The whole public knows the ambulance service needs straightened out.”
County commissioners were willing, but didn’t find a receptive ear at City Hall, Commissioner Rob Francis said.
“We met from January to May,” said Francis, the county’s lead negotiator. “The county made four proposals, the city refused each one and then they stopped the talks.”
Francis said he could not elaborate on what the proposals were, citing confidentiality of the closed-doors meetings.
“This is the age of consolidation,” Mentzer said. “They (the city) can’t bury their heads any longer.”
“I think wisdom eventually will prevail and there will be one service again,” McIntosh concluded.

CITY commissioners further discussed the ambulance situation after Sarver repeated his tale at their meeting.
If anything, Iola will look to extend its service, Maness said.
Iola should propose in the next round of talks regarding mutual aid between the two agencies that the city step in to assist with long-distance transfers when it becomes apparent the county can not do so in a timely manner, Maness said. Currently, the city assists only as a backup.
Iola City Administrator Judy Brigham acknowledged that the city was not privy to the circumstances behind Sarver’s wait.
“But I don’t think our residents should have to wait so long for service,” Maness said, “and we plan on continuing to offer this service to our citizens.”

COUNTY COMMISSIONERS have not decided how they want to fit ambulance service in with the North State Street building.
Jason Nelson, ambulance director, showed preliminary drawings for how the building might be remodeled for living quarters and offices and have ambulance bays nearby. He also outlined having ambulance and living quarters in a separate structure.
“We need to determine which is cheaper and then draw specifications,” Works said.
In either, commissioners want any new structure to blend in with the exterior appearance of the existing building.
Also, Works said he didn’t think a low area of State Street in front of the building, which floods with heavy rain, would be an impediment to ambulance service.
“The building is not in the flood zone and the exit is south of where State Street floods,” he said. Ambulances dispatched from the north might have to use private roads to avoid flash-flooding.
Jeff Bauer, Iola codes enforcement officer, confirmed Tuesday afternoon that the north portion of the building was in the flood zone, and that some flood-proofing would be required during remodeling.