County’s decision ends Iola’s EMS era 

A decision by county commissioners to hire a private company to take over countywide ambulance services ends what has been a sometimes testy partnership between Iola and the county that dates back to the 1970s.



April 19, 2023 - 2:06 PM

At the stroke of midnight Aug. 1, Iola will no longer be in the ambulance business for the first time in more than 50 years.

Tuesday’s decision by Allen County commissioners to hire a private company, American Medical Response, to handle its countywide ambulance service creates a ripple effect for Iola city crews, because the Iola Fire Department will no longer have ambulance personnel.

(It’s assumed that many of the paramedics, EMTs and EMT-I’s within the Fire Department will be hired by AMR.)

The county-AMR contract was the byproduct of the Iola City Council’s notice in January that it was ending its own EMS contract with Allen County after July 31. The Council’s hopes then were to renegotiate a new deal. But county commissioners instead opted to go with AMR.

“We submitted a proposal, but never heard back,” Iola Mayor Steve French said.

Iola City Administrator Matt Rehder, who had not been alerted to the county-AMR deal Tuesday afternoon, said the city was prepared to continue offering services through July 31.

“My assumption is AMR will need 60 to 90 days to ramp up,” Rehder said.

Rehder is uncertain what will happen with the ambulance equipment and medication, much of which is city property. He anticipated those items being sold or donated.

The county-AMR deal also puts an end to the city’s ongoing efforts to split its fire and EMS service.

Prior to giving the county notice it was ending the contract, Iola Council members voted in October to split its fire and EMS services, because of a chronic staffing shortage due to the difficulty in finding employees seeking to do both firefighting and working on an ambulance.

THE AMR deal also brings a halt to an occasionally testy relationship between Iola and Allen County in their partnership that extended back to the 1970s.

In the first half of the 20th century, ambulance service in Allen County came primarily from local funeral homes until Iola started up its own service in 1967.

Then, in 1970, the Allen County Emergency Medical Service was formed, creating a unique partnership in which the county was responsible for EMS, with ambulances in Iola being run by Iola firefighters in exchange for an annual subsidy.

A split occurred in 2009 after county commissioners announced their intentions to assume all EMS responsibilities for the county. In response, the Iola officials started up a city-only ambulance service.

Wary of the costs of running duplicated services, including having ambulance stations just a few blocks from each other, the two sides reached agreement on a contract in 2012 in which Iola oversaw countywide EMS, a system that’s been in place since 2013.