Fundraiser to support county EMS

Rural volunteer services are struggling to stay afloat

-Messenger file photo
Dayton Rescue EMT Sara Pieper, at left along with fellow EMT Steph Swanson check over supplies and equipment in one of the the ambulances in 2021. Unlike police and fire department services, EMS is not considered an essential service.

When your car gets broken into overnight and you call the police to report it, you know that an officer is going to show up. If your house catches fire and you call 911, you know that the fire department will be there to help. But did you know that when you have a heart attack at 3 a.m. and call for an ambulance, it may never arrive?

“EMS is not an essential service, which means we don’t see any additional government funding,” said Shea Rose, a paramedic with the Fort Dodge Fire Department and a member of the Webster County EMS Association.

In Iowa, police and fire departments are considered essential services and by law are funded through taxes. However, emergency medical services are not considered essential statewide, though individual counties can establish EMS as an essential service and set up a tax levy specifically to fund EMS. Currently, Webster County is not one of those counties.

In many of the communities in the county, fire departments are having to funnel funds from their budget to keep EMS afloat, which adds strain to the departments and their needs. In an effort to ease that strain and help county EMS become more self-sustaining, the Webster County EMS Association is hosting a fundraiser event to support county EMS programs. Next week also happens to be National EMS Week.

The event will start at 7 p.m. Friday with bingo at the Webster County Fairgrounds. There will be live music by the band Riddled With Class following bingo. Many prizes will be raffled off during the event, including many gift certificates, gift cards and an entire finished hog (split into two halves) donated by Alliger Farms, of Gowrie.

“The donations have been overwhelming,” Rose said. “Many local businesses have donated baskets and gift cards and goodies.”

Wristbands for admission will be $10 for adults, $5 for kids and $5 for first responders.

Updates on the event and information on more of the raffle prizes can be found on the event Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/events/1263460710918106.

Proceeds from the event will be used to help support all of the county EMS programs with education and equipment needs.

“I don’t think people realize the level of training that goes into being a trained first responder like an EMT,” Rose said. “You’re required to do so many hours of continuing education to keep your state certification. It’s a lot, especially if you’re looking at a volunteer with a full-time job and a full-time family.”

The training to become an EMT or a paramedic is expensive and not every department can afford to provide it, Rose said.

“So if there’s not a way to pay for that, I’m sure that’s a deterrent for volunteers,” she said.

In general, the costs to maintain an ambulance service and train medical personnel are increasing, Rose said. Some departments rely on billing for their services in order to self-sustain, but not all EMS programs do transports and aren’t able to depend on that income, she said.

In the past, some departments have applied for grants to help cover the cost of equipment and education, but those are becoming hard to come by, Rose said.

There are 14 EMS programs that operate within Webster County, including the Stratford and Farnhamville services that have a large territory in Webster County. Of those 14, only four are able to transport patients via ambulance — Vincent, Dayton, Gowrie and Fort Dodge.

“These are local systems we’re supporting,” Rose said. “These are our friends, our neighbors, our cousins, our people that are waking up in the middle of the night and taking off work countless hours to volunteer — time to be trained, to be knowledgeable and take care of people. They care.”

The rural volunteer services are struggling to stay afloat, she said, and that often leads to delayed ambulance arrival if another service has to be paged out — and could eventually escalate to no ambulance available to respond at all.

“Picture your worst day, calling 911 and nobody has to show up to help you,” said FDFD EMT Mandy Cox, another member of the Webster County EMS Association. “Through this, we can ensure the education of the providers we already have so they are continually trained to the best of their ability. Through this we can help them have better equipment to serve those in our community.”


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