By RON CRAIG
Despite a glaze of freezing rain that forced most area schools to close, township and village officials from across Seneca County braved the inclement weather to attend a meeting at the commissioner’s office Tuesday morning to discuss the county’s EMS system.
As a result of the meeting, a committee is to be formed to explore ways the volunteer-based system can be improved.
Trustees requested the meeting, mainly to discuss the EMS issue. The commissioners’ meeting room was packed with nearly 30 township trustees, village officials and EMS personnel.
It was noted during the meeting there are EMS units that are out of service for several hours at a time due to a lack of volunteers. It’s getting more difficult as time goes by to recruit and retain volunteers to man the county’s six squads as people have difficulty finding the time to take the training, then devote time to being on call for the EMS units.
“The volunteers are getting fewer and fewer, and they’re getting older and older,” Commissioner Mike Kerschner, who led the discussion, said.
There are also some EMS units, such as the main unit in Bascom, that pays a small stipend to those on call, Kerschner pointed out. He asked the trustees about the possibility of pooling resources to pay stipends to all volunteers in the county, but it seemed a majority of those present felt a levy would be needed for that to occur.
One township official pointed out such a levy could be placed on a ballot, but if that system does not pan out and the county then decides to place another levy on the ballot to fund four fully-paid EMS units, voters may not be willing to pass two levies in a short period of time.
“Money is not the issue, it’s (finding) the people,” one trustee said of funding an EMS system that works. Kerschner said money is always an issue.
Kerschner noted Sandusky County’s EMS system consists of four districts that cover the entire county with four fully-paid paramedic units including the city of Fremont. He said a similar system could work in Seneca County, if that’s what officials want to develop and voters are willing to support.
“It’s the goal of our (county) EMS director (Ken Majors) to have four or five locations with paid staff,’ Kerschner told the group.
The funding of such a system would be a challenge, Kerschner noted.
“It would cost about $2.5 million to run that system,” Kerschner said. “Our entire (general fund) budget is only $16.4 million, so that’s kind of scary.”
Kerschner went on to say the county currently spends about $1 million on its system that just began offering an advanced life support Echo unit that now operates 24/7 with one paramedic on board. The Echo unit responds to assist the county’s six volunteer EMS units.
When the discussion turned to the possibility of placing a tax levy on the ballot to pay for a full-time, paid, county-wide EMS system, some concerns were raised about whether residents of the cities of Fostoria and Tiffin would vote for such a levy because they are served by their own fire department-based EMS units.
Passing a levy without the support of Fostoria and Tiffin voters may be a daunting task, it was noted.
Dave Kingsborough, a Pleasant Township trustee, told those attending it will take a lot of research to find the best solution to the problem, and that research takes time.
Pleasant and Adams townships joined the village of Green Springs last summer to sign a contract with Milan-based private ambulance company North Central EMS to provide 24/7 advanced life support 9-1-1 EMS coverage. It is the only such arrangement in the county.
The contract with NCEMS came about because the volunteer EMS unit in Green Springs, which also provided service to the two townships, was out of service most of the time due to a lack of volunteers. As a result, residents in those areas had to wait for extended response times for units coming from Tiffin, Bettsville, Bascom and Sandusky County.
Kingsborough told the other trustees and village officials it took six months of research before decisions were made to bring in a private ambulance company to provide EMS service for the residents in their areas.
At that point, Kerschner asked if some of those attending would be willing to sit on an exploratory committee, of sorts, to delve into possible solutions for improvements to the county-wide system.
Tim Lynch, a Liberty Township trustee, was asked by Kerschner to assist in finding others to join him on such a committee. That committee could get together for the first time in mid-February, Kerschner suggested.
Tuesday morning’s meeting was likely a violation of the state’s Sunshine Laws, which require news media to be informed of such meetings at least 24 hours in advance. Because several townships sent more than one trustee to the meeting, it constituted a public meeting, requiring the 24-hour notice.
During the meeting, however, Kerschner asked everyone in attendance if they had a problem with members of the media attending the upcoming committee meetings, and no one objected.