BREAKING THE ICE

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February 5, 2013 - 12:00 AM

The “elephant in the room” was finally brought up in a joint city and county planning session Monday night.
It took about 45 minutes before moderator Fred Heismeyer mentioned a fire and emergency medical services merger to the Iola city council and the county commission. The tone in the room changed once he said those words.
“This is one of those elephants-in-the-room kind of topics,” Heismeyer said.
Council member David Toland quickly responded, “This is the elephant in the room.”
County commissioner Dick Works quickly spoke his mind, saying Iola is offering a “lower level of service” when it comes to an ambulance service, which he sees as “morally repugnant.” He was referring to the fact that the city’s ambulance service is a type-2 service, while the county’s is a type-1 service. A type-1 service requires an available paramedic in an ambulance at all times.
“This is life-and-death stuff people, you all are thinking about politics,” Works said. “The city of Iola is concerned about money, the county is concerned about life and death.”
Works cited an incident from five years ago in which an Iola ambulance arrived to the scene of a 17-year-old experiencing diabetes-related health problems. Works alleged the personnel who arrived on the scene did not have the proper training to treat the patient, who later died. He said the city was not held accountable for their actions.
“That is the difference between a type-1 service and a type-2 service,” Works said.
Commissioner Tom Williams said while both the city and the county offer quality services, both need to be held accountable for their actions. He also addressed the fact that people living in the city of Iola are being taxed for the city’s ambulance service and the county ambulance service — a needless waste for its citizens.
Works said the city of Iola is “an interest group,” and its residents are primarily Allen Countians first off. He said the county offers a high level of service currently, which needs to be embraced by the city.
Discussion turned toward the future regarding an EMS board of trustees, brought up by Mayor Bill Shirley. Toland mentioned the proposition of forming a county-wide public safety board that would include the fire department, EMS and even the police force.
“It could be on the cutting edge of creativity as far as what counties are doing to work together,” Toland said.
City council member and mayoral candidate Joel Wicoff put in his two cents on whether a merger is the best course of action.
“There are good people on both crews, there is good machinery on both crews,” he said. “Here is where we are, we need to get the best of both worlds and merge the services.”
Both county commissioners and city council members agreed the issue needs to be resolved, and both entities need to work together to solve any present problem. Council member Steve French expressed the need for action. He said the five-year moratorium begun in 2010 for the decision is a long time, and the city and the county do not need to wait to make a decision.
Council members and commissioners agreed there needs to be constructive cooperation between the two groups. Works reminded members about the need to address the issues in the merger.
“If you don’t know your history, you’re doomed to repeat it,” Works said.

Prior to topics surrounding the EMS merger, moderator Heismeyer, a former Iolan and now of Wichita, led discussions involving economic development between Iola and Allen County.
Attendees listed their top three priorities that could be worked on together. Top three submissions were the new hospital, the EMS merger and economic development.
French said Iola and the county need to be seen as one and the same, and any development in the area should be a positive effect for all of its citizens.
“The positive attitude needs to be focused on Allen as a whole, with Iola in Allen,” French said.
Toland mentioned that the new hospital being built is already a major step forward for the city and the county, and is a “very nice piece of economic development.”
He said sometimes there is a negative focus on disagreements between the city and the county, but the truth is that they work well together.
“People in every county think their county dynamics are dysfunctional,” Toland said.
Williams echoed the sentiment.
“On a whole, it is amazing what you can do together,” he said.
Heismeyer corrected Williams and said, “it’s amazing what we can do together.”
No date was set for the next joint meeting, but Toland urged attendees to “carry the momentum” and set up another meeting in the near future.

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