July 22, 2008

Seneca County EMS Hits ‘Crisis’ Level for Staffing

By Jennifer Feehan, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio

Jul. 22--FOSTORIA, Ohio -- Since taking over as emergency medical service director for Seneca County in November, Ken Majors has been concerned about the lack of volunteers to staff rescue squads.

Sunday night, his fears were realized when a 911 call came in for a 48-year-old woman having a severe asthma attack near Kansas, Ohio, just south of the Seneca-Sandusky county line.

The two closest EMS squads -- Bettsville and Bascom -- were out of service; Green Spring was already on a run, and New Riegel got stopped by a train on its way to the call. Ultimately, Fostoria paramedics were called and arrived more than 15 minutes after the 911 call was made. The woman, he was told, survived.

"Seneca County is in a crisis for personnel for EMS," Mr. Majors said yesterday. "I don't know the answer to that. I'm searching for that. Situations like this bring it to light in a frightening way."

Just a few weeks ago, Mr. Ma-jors had aired his concerns with Seneca County commissioners.

"This is the worst case scenario," he said. "Two weeks ago [I said] we haven't missed a run, but we're basically dodging a bullet. Now, we missed a run."

Seneca County Sheriff Tom Steyer said his dispatcher took a 911 call from the patient's daughter at 5:42 p.m. Sunday. The Kansas fire department was on the scene within eight minutes to administer oxygen but did not have a rescue squad that could transport her to the hospital.

When the New Riegel squad came up against a train, the dispatcher called Fostoria for mutual aid at 5:54 p.m., the sheriff said.

Mr. Majors said it was the first time he knew of where the county's understaffed EMS squads were so strained. He is at the Seneca County fair this week manning a booth with a banner reading "We need volunteers."

"I have grant money from the state to help pay for training," he said. "We sign you up, send you to a six-week school, and ask that you volunteer for a period of two years. That education is free."

Still, he said, the time commitment for both training and service time is huge.

"People aren't willing to give their time in this day and age when people are working multiple jobs just to make ends meet," Mr. Majors said. "Seneca County is in a crisis for personnel for EMS."

County Commissioner Ben Nutter, who works as a firefighter and EMT for the city of Tiffin, said that as training requirements for EMTs increase each year, he sees the situation "getting worse before it gets better."

A countywide EMS tax levy is unlikely to gain support based on current economic conditions, Mr. Majors said, though Mr. Nutter suggested some rural areas might consider a local levy for EMS. "It's a level of service type of thing," Mr. Nutter said. "What do local people expect for that level of service, and what are they willing to pay for it?"

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: [email protected] or 419-353-5972.


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