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Appeal continues for Tama Ambulance service volunteers

February 17, 2017
Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

Today, Tama Ambulance Service Director Duane Backen renews the call for volunteers to join the Tama Ambulance Service.

Backen joins ambulance service and city council member Aaron Haughey, ambulance crew member Mike Haughey, Ambulance Administrator Don Weitzell, and fellow crew members in stressing the need for more help.

The service responded to 709 calls in 2016 with about 30 active members.

Article Photos

-On Feb. 3, The News-Herald was awarded third place for Community Service in the 2017 Iowa Newspaper Association Contest Weekly II Division for efforts to aid in ambulance member recruitment. (Also see the accommodating Tama News-Herald editorial)

Letter to the Editor:

Last Sunday evening (Feb. 5) our ambulance was paged for a call that required a transport beyond Marshalltown or Grinnell. While that crew was tending to that call another page went out requesting a second truck. Tama was unable to assemble a crew (minimum of a driver and 1 EMT). Toledo's first unit covered the call for us.

Fact Box

Tama News-Herald Editorial

Time to mandate Emergency Medical Services in Iowa?

Since the November, 2016, General Election, it's been said: the rural areas have spoken - the heartland has felt left out - the cities and big counties have dictated too much policy.

Let's hope in Iowa the Legislators in Des Moines listen to and hear this message from all areas-

It's time for them - the lawmakers - to get together with their local ambulance provider and first responders service personnel.

It's time to meet with the Bureau of Emergency and Trauma Services of the Department of Health (BETS).

It's time to for the Iowa Emergency Medical Services Association to be joined in the discussion.

Should ambulance service in Iowa be required just like fire protection?

Here's the issue heard more strongly in Tama County as time goes by: personnel to staff the rural ambulances and first responders is shrinking.

Is it at a critical stage? That assessment is up to the volunteers who devote their many hours of dedicated service(SEE?TAMA?AMBULANCE?SERVICE?DIRECTOR?DUANE?BACKEN'S?APPEAL?ON?PAGE?1.)

Currently there are more than 85 persons certified in Tama County to provide Emergency Medical Service according to BETS. This includes emergency medical technicians, advanced EMTS and paramedics. They are listed with services in Tama - 18; Toledo - 20; Montour- 4; Elberon- 5; Garwin- 3; Traer- 15; Gladbrook- 19; Dysart- 11; and first responders at Clutier. Additionally, the services providing transport have drivers. (The number can fluctuate due to new or loss of members and some may be licensed outside of the county because of the actual location of their home.)

Concern is voiced due to the age of some of the volunteers who will be retiring and the time required for the volunteers to staff the ambulances 24-hours-a-day, seven -days-a-week.

Now, more and more it seems, there are times when one service is relying upon another service because they cannot get a crew together for a run.

At the Local Emergency Planning Committee meetings for Tama County mention of the need for additional volunteers seems to be a topic more often.

It does not take much to make a case someone in need of medical care west of Clutier or south of Tama deserves the same response, within reason, of someone on the steps of the capitol in Des Moines.

It is simply vital the emergency medical services are maintained in rural Iowa.

Since taking over in Tama County for the funeral homes "station wagon ambulances" in 1972, the local volunteer services have grown and done a most remarkable job of providing dependable and highly regarded care and service.

But some 45 years later, could it be time for the State of Iowa to provide a better backbone of support?

As stated to be made clear in the beginning: the local persons on the day-to-day emergency runs have the pulse of the matter.

A cohesive effort putting them in the forefront in conjunction with BETS and the EMS Association acting with the Iowa Legislature can determine if mandated service is appropriate.

And, what comes with required service what will make some legislators howl: the money.

Tama County's ambulances operate primarily upon claims paid for service, donations, some city support and a lot of work by volunteers.

Let's now look toward the state-licensed casinos if mandated service is the decision.

Too long have cities and counties with gambling licenses (it's up to 19 casinos) been rewarded the benefits of employment, local taxes, tourist money and generous charitable donations. While the 84 other counties received $11.9 million in 2015-16 for the County Endowment Program, those 15 counties with casinos had a whopping $84 million in grants distributed - that on top of the employment, tourist dollars and local taxes paid.

The time has come for the Iowa Legislature to change the way the casino money flows to a more equitable way and what's more fair of a start than to boost medical services across Iowa?

The casinos, by their own words, "stimulated economic development - generated more that $6 billion in tax revenues since 1991."

If the gambling industry and the areas chosen to benefit cannot aid the rest of the state then there is true hokum in the whole granting of gambling licenses.

-J. Speer

Folks, we have about 30 people on our crew, answering calls 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. We need 42 people to have two crews of three, (3 people 12 hours daytime and 3 people 12 hours nighttime, 7 days/week).

That does not include staffing a second truck for second calls. Your ambulance crew is becoming burned out. People are shutting off their pagers after their shift. Terrible, you think?

Well, at least they serve one shift. How many calls do you take? Toledo was able to cover us this time but I believe they are having the same issues we are. We've had to cover some of their second unit calls because they couldn't assemble a second crew. Had their first unit been on a call it is entirely possible there would have been no one to answer this second call.

I'm currently working up to 60 hours a week at my "real job" and still find time to cover at least one and one-half shifts on the ambulance service per week, attend monthly meetings and training, and answer second unit calls when I'm in town. (Just so you know, we don't staff a second unit. People that answer second unit calls were not on call and have to stop whatever they are doing to answer the call).

We have others that do more, but we keep expecting more and more time from fewer people. These people have families they like to spend time with too.

We need volunteers, particularly EMTS, and especially daytime and weekends. Remember, it takes a minimum of six months to train an EMT. We cannot fix this overnight. We need YOU. The time may not be far off when someone calls for help and there is no one available. Maybe it will be your family. Think about it.

Call the ambulance station or myself to get an application. I'm in the phone book. Please apply, you can do it.

Duane Backen


Tama Ambulance Service Director



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