Ambulance service still seeking solutions

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CHRISMAN – The Northern Edgar County Ambulance Service (NECAS) is still looking for a way to keep an ambulance based in Chrisman and serve residents of Edgar, Brouilletts Creek, Prairie, Ross, Young America and Shiloh townships.

“We’re struggling money-wise,” said Kevin Julian following the NECAS board meeting Thursday, Sept. 27. He is president of the board.

When the ambulance service originally started it was organized as a volunteer operation to which the townships and the communities of Chrisman, Metcalf and Hume made voluntary donations based on population to assist with funding. It worked well for several years but attrition his taking a toll.

Original volunteers grew older which made continuing as EMTs serving their neighbors more difficult. Younger people have not stepped forward at a sufficient pace to fill the gap.

Another type of attrition is Edgar County’s declining population – more than 1,200 people since the 2010 census based on a 2017 census bureau estimate. Fewer people results in smaller donations into the ambulance fund from the townships and community governments.

Julian said the ambulance service has only asked the other government entities twice before to increase the rate of funding level. The most recent increase was 2 percent. Currently, the townships and towns contribute a total of $22,000 to operate the ambulance.

During the board meeting Thursday night, ambulance service director Jeremy Neal reported receiving three more applications to volunteer with the service. One is from a person who previously volunteered. The second is from a person who just finished basic EMT training and will ride as a third crew member on the ambulance for a probationary period. The final application is from a Chrisman firefighter who recently turned 18 and is now eligible to start the basic course.

Neal followed up on the volunteer discussion after the meeting. He described a perfect world for the NECAS service is having 16 volunteers available per ambulance on shift work basis. NECAS operates two ambulances so at least 32 volunteers are needed to meet an ideal situation. The service has 14 volunteers.

Neal prepares a shift schedule each week for the volunteers. The volunteers are not required to spend their time at the ambulance bay but must be home or nearby to respond quickly if needed.

All EMTs are paid $3 per hour while on shift – $4 per hour for weekends and holidays. Basics EMTs earn $30 per run, and intermediate level EMTs are paid $38 per run.

Early this year, the NECAS board approached the Edgar County Board about adding Northern Edgar County to the existing special service area that taxes to underwrite ambulance service to Hunter, Stratton, Elbridge, Paris, Symmes, Grandview and Bucks townships.

The inquiry was made when it appeared Northern Edgar County cannot form its own special service area for taxing purposes. Julian said board members still consider having a separate taxing district the best option, if it can be done.

“We know we are going to raise the taxes, but somebody’s got to pay for it,” said Julian.

Board member Daren Craig agreed. He described approaching the county board about annexation as a way of looking for information about options.

“The goal is to get better service, but that costs more money,” said Craig. “The public will have to decide what they want.”

During the business portion of the meeting the board approved several decisions made at previous meetings when those topics were not part of the agenda.

Some of the items approved included:

placing a $50 limit debit card in each ambulance as an emergency fund in case the crew needs to purchase fuel while making a run or encounters some other difficulty;

purchasing dash cameras for each ambulance at approximately $150 per camera system; and

the purchase of a non-transport emergency vehicle.

The idea for the non-transport vehicle is for use when both ambulances are involved on runs and a third call is received. It will allow Neal to get to the third scene quickly, render aid and assess if another service is needed to provide transportation to a hospital.

Neal sold the ambulance service his pickup truck for $1. He said it is now equipped with medical bags and other supplies, but he is waiting for final state authorization to put the pickup into service.

“This keeps me from having to work every night and all weekend at the station,” said Neal, who holds a fulltime job elsewhere.