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Keep county EMS service going forward

Jul 10, 2013 - Bryan Spears, Lander

There has been a great deal of furor lately over the subject of Fremont County EMS. Much of this has stemmed from complaints made from a few individuals in the Dubois area, and a great deal of public attention has been drawn to the agency.

I feel I am in a unique position to offer some insight into the workings of the EMS agency, and I hope that I can help educate people a little about what is going on right now. I have worked the last four years as a patrol officer for a local municipal police department, and the last 2 1/2 years as a part-time medic for FCEMS, typically 24-36 hours a week.

Working in both local governments and seeing what goes on in this county, and how things are run has certainly been an educational experience. I have recently tendered my resignation to both agencies as I have accepted another job out of state, and I feel that I can offer some insight without being subjected to influence or bias due to my employment situation.

I have watched with great interest as a lot of controversy has evolved the past few months regarding service to the smaller communities of Dubois and Jeffrey City. I have read the complaints of slow response times, and lack of availability in some situations. As someone who has been heavily involved with the agency the last 2 1/2 years I am personally aware of the details of why some of those who are complaining the loudest are unhappy. I can categorically state that I know for an absolute fact that many of the things that were said are untrue, and there are some very disgruntled former EMTs who are unhappy about the fact that they were not able to perform at the level of service demanded by the agency and the people it serves.

However, a fair point has been made that service to some areas is much slower due to lack of staffing.

Unfortunately, it seems that out of this situation, one of the "solutions" that has evolved is an idea of reducing full-time staffing even further, and depending more heavily on volunteer first responders and medics living in those areas. I have even heard that some county officials have suggested that FCEMS attempt to recruit jobless people to fill in these roles. I do not believe that most of the people in Fremont County are aware of the impact this decision would have on the level of emergency medical services available to them.

In the first place, the unfortunate truth is that not everyone is suited for the role of emergency medical technician, due to a variety of reasons. There are a great many possible issues that are involved with hiring people for this job. The person must be able to take time out of their schedule to train and attend classes for six months. The person must be able to pass state licensing tests and exams, and must be able to pass a state criminal history check.

If you call 911 for an emergency would you want someone coming into your house that has a history of theft, burglary, or drug abuse? Or would you want to know that the agency sending the EMTs has been able to uphold their standards for hiring based on integrity and personal character?

If you or a loved one were in dire need of medical help, who would you prefer to have arrive at your house when you called 911? A part-time volunteer who has been through one class and occasionally responds to

calls for free as the work load and interest level dictate, or a full-time professional who attends training on a daily basis, every shift, and is thoroughly versed in the proper responses to medical emergencies?

Working with FCEMS both as a medic, and as a responding law enforcement officer on critical incidents, I have been able to witness the stark and tremendous difference that usually exists in the competence and confidence levels between part time volunteers and full time professionals. While I believe it is very admirable that there are individuals in the community who wish to help others around them, it does not change the reality that there is a large measure of difference in the quality of service level from full-time professional medics who have made it their passion and life calling to train and respond to medical emergencies.

Two different paths are possible FCEMS. The would allow for permanent. full-time staff in Lander, Riverton, and Dubois, as well as placing an ambulance in Jeffrey City.

Toughly 6,000 ambulance calls that are serviced by FCEMS in this county every year. This is a number that will only increase as the population continues to age. These medics will be required to attend further training during each shift they are on call, and they will be thoroughly versed in responses as they deal with multiple calls each and every shift, gaining valuable experience and increasing their skills.

The other option is to reduce staffing levels, eliminate many of the current medics, and rely on volunteers to respond to all of these calls. At a time when there are many people in the community asking for a more

responsive level of service, they are instead facing the option of a greatly reduced access to professional emergency medical services.

This would be a tremendous step backward for the people of Fremont County, and it would mean the difference between life and death in some cases. There is no way to realistically expect people to monitor for calls, and respond from their homes or jobs in as timely of a fashion as a full time crew. There is no way to realistically expect the part time volunteers to be capable of the same level of training and expertise as a full time medic. And there is no way to realistically expect people who are truly talented, gifted, and motivated, to volunteer their time to such an extent when they can make a living pursuing their passion elsewhere. The result of all of this will be that the people of Fremont County will experience lower levels of service.

I don't think anyone would argue that emergency medical services are among the most important services rendered and assisted by the county. In the last 2 1/2 years I have seen a very marked increase in the level of professionalism of the agency. I can list in detail many steps taken seeking to improve the agency and move it forward. It would be a tragic shame for the community if this were stopped and reversed.

If you feel that this issue is important, I urge you to contact your Fremont County Commissioner and ask them to ensure that we continue to move forward and not backward. It would be a great disservice to the community if a few individuals personal gripes and concerns were allowed to damage the level of response that any of our people can expect when they or a loved one need help. If anyone has any questions they would like to direct to me on this subject, I can be reached at dspears@gmail.com.

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