City vows to keep its own EMS

Iola Council members want to return to a system used from 2009 to 2013, when it had dual ambulance services for both the city and county. The county voted to pursue a contract with American Medical Response, leaving the city to decide whether to join or go it alone.

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August 24, 2021 - 10:21 AM

Iola plans to go it alone.

City council members gave their full-throated support Monday night to protecting the jobs of Iola firefighters by creating a stand-alone ambulance service within city limits. The decision comes in response to Allen County commissioners ending a contract with Iola for EMS. 

The decision returns to a system used from 2009 to 2013, which was criticized for its duplication of services — two ambulance barns were three blocks from each other — as well as saddling Iola residents with the costs of supporting two ambulance services, the city’s and the county’s.

Watch what Iola City Council members had to say about Iola’s hopes to operate its own ambulance service.

Monday’s meeting was the first since county commissioners voted last week to pursue a contract for countywide EMS with American Medical Response, a nationwide ambulance company that includes services in Linn County.

Since the start of 2014, Iola’s fire department has provided countywide ambulances services.

The county’s Aug. 17 vote to negotiate exclusively with AMR set the table for Monday’s city meeting, held in front of more than a dozen firefighters hoping to find some clarity with their job status.

“It’s going to be hard for us to keep some of our less-seasoned staff on board if we don’t have some type of direction,” Deputy Fire Chief Kenneth Powell told the Council.

Powell noted IFD has operated ambulance services in some capacity since 1959, in encouraging the city to retain its EMS program.

Council members agreed, directing City Administrator Matt Rehder to put pen to paper to determine the costs associated with operating a citywide ambulance service.

Rehder said he hoped to have figures for the Council prior to their next meeting Sept. 13. “We may have to lock ourselves in my house to get it done,” Rehder said.

That may not be quick enough, several Council members warned, encouraging Rehder and others to get budget figures back as quickly as possible.

If there’s an advantage to the city’s startup costs, it’s that Iola already has much of the infrastructure in place, Powell noted. 

The city owns two ambulances, has its own drug license to keep the ambulances stocked and other essential equipment, Powell said.

But most importantly, the department has the manpower in place, Mayor Jon Wells said.

“You can buy an ambulance,” Wells said. “You can’t go out and buy this many employees to run the service.”

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