One day last spring, I stopped into Mayor Twila Blakeman’s office to chat about some business.
“Please excuse me,” she said calmly. “I’m a bit distracted. The county has just decided to shut off our ambulance service.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. “What? Can they do that?” I asked.
They could, and they tried.
It seemed the ambulance system was getting too costly for the county budget. Compared to the other towns in Fremont County, Dubois was just too small. We didn’t use the services often enough to justify the cost of emergency care.
Thus began a long series of trips down-county for our fearless Mayor, who is 80-something, nearly always good-humored, and definitely a force to be reckoned with.
My husband and I headed back to New York for our annual spring break, much downhearted. While away, we came up with several ideas that might help the situation. Once back, I stopped by Twila’s office to propose them.
“Oh, that’s all solved,” she responded, airily. “We’ve appealed for volunteers to train as first-responders, and 21 people stepped up.”
I just had to smile, and cheer inwardly. In a village that runs on volunteerism, where most regulars are already tapped out, 21 people had agreed to go the extra mile (in the middle of the night, or interrupting dinner) to deal with God only knows what disasters.
Within 6 weeks of the appeal, 3 people had been fully certified as EMTs. By last June, 18 had completed the course and graduated as qualified first responders
Is it any wonder that one float in last year’s July 4 parade bore the title “Dubois Rising”? The metaphor was obvious–rising from the ashes of the January fire. But the ambulance crisis was more recent, and was doubtless on everyone’s mind a year ago.
Today, July 1 one year later, is the official start of an important new era for Dubois. The town will now be staffed with full EMS service, featuring two full-time emergency personnel (one first responder and one advanced EMT or paramedic) at all times, 24/7.
Guardian Air Medical Services, which also serves remote areas in Alaska and other states, will be assuming responsibility for emergency services throughout Fremont County. How well this five-year contract to privatize EMS will succeed in the long run is anybody’s guess, but the current arrangement certainly beats having no ambulance service at all.
I will spare you all of the political and administrative maneuvering that has accomplished this, except to say that the person originally brought in to solve the EMS financial crisis, Joseph Zillmer, was summarily dismissed without explanation in May 2015.
Besides Dubois’ debt to the volunteers who have served so effectively for the past year, we owe immense gratitude to part-time residents Daniel and Cynthia Starks, who put up the funds to keep emergency services in effect in the Dubois area while the problem was being ironed out.
Matt Strauss, Guardian’s program director for flight and ground emergency services in Fremont County (where many calls require airlifting), said that services will be much easier and quicker when ambulance calls no longer bring volunteers away from home. Paid staff on call from a permanent base will be answering emergencies from the center of town.
Before, Strauss said, it could take 15-30 minutes for responders to collect their equipment and arrive at the scene. Now “you will have the ambulance rolling out of the garage in 2 minutes, and they will be on the scene within 5-10 minutes,” he said, at least for people who live right in town.
What’s more, this brings 3 new full-time positions to Dubois for qualified emergency personnel, Strauss told me, and some volunteers have expressed interest. The objective is to have the service “fully staffed with people living there,” Strauss said.
“Oh, yes,” Twila added when we spoke about it recently. “We need ambulance staff who know the community, and know the people.”
… if only, I might add, to assure that they treat our townspeople with the respect they so richly deserve.
© Lois Wingerson, 2016
Want to see more of Living Dubois? You can sign up at the top of the right column (on the website version of this blog) to see every new post by email.