By Gary Robson
Everywhere you look right now, there's information -- and misinformation -- about the proposed Red Lodge/Roberts Ambulance District. Proponents say we have an extremely high level of service for a small rural area and we need to maintain it. Opponents say it's a waste of money, among other arguments.
Let's examine the money issue first. Currently, about 2/3 of the department's budget comes from user fees (call-outs that are billed to the patient, hospital, or insurance) and about 1/3 comes from the City of Red Lodge general fund. There is another $10,000 per year provided by Carbon County.
This means that those of us who live outside of Red Lodge City limits are not paying our fair share for the ambulance service that is standing by to take care of us and our neighbors. The residents of Red Lodge cover the expenses for us. This isn't right.
I, for one, feel that it is perfectly fair and reasonable to pay $69 per year to cover the basic operating costs of an emergency ambulance system to protect me and my family. Yes, that's $5.75 per month per parcel, no matter how many houses or structures are on that parcel, and there is no fee for vacant, undeveloped, or agricultural land.
Our EMS team is staffed to put a first-responder ambulance on the road in three minutes! That's an awful lot of peace of mind for the price of a sandwich a month.
Some of the letters to the editor in the Carbon County News have been throwing out incorrect information about the pay rates of the current EMS employees. Why were they wrong? Because the person who first included them in a letter looked at budget amounts, not salaries. As any business owner knows -- and every employee should know -- an employee's salary is only a part of the cost of having an employee.
Let's take a look at the actual numbers, provided by the City of Red Lodge. There are four paid EMS employees, and here's what they make:
|Asst. Chief, Fire||$22.50/hour||$46,800.00/year|
|Asst. Chief, EMS||$20.92/hour||$43,513.60/year|
These are all considerably lower than the misquoted numbers in the Carbon County News letters, and all four of these people could expect to earn more for the same jobs in other cities. The hourly numbers also don't tell the full story, as each of those four employees works a full 40-hour week plus another 42 hours on-call.
Let's compare the Deputy Chief's $52,478.40/year to some of the other department heads in Red Lodge:
|Community Dev. Director||$38.18/hour||$79,414.00/year|
|Public Works Director||$27.75/hour||$57,720.00/year|
One fundamental question is why we need four fulltime employees when we have that great staff of volunteers. That's a good question. In my varied career, I've managed as many as 65 employees, almost all of whom were on a fixed weekly schedule. Even at that, I had an assistant who kept track of who was taking vacations, who was covering when someone was out sick, and who was available for overtime.
Aaron McDowell, our Deputy Chief, manages three fulltime employees, one part-time employee, and 75 volunteers (32 EMS, 34 fire, and 9 dual-role). Each of those volunteers must be trained, certified, scheduled, and managed. He must assure that each shift has the appropriate number of people on duty and on-call, and has to perform his own paramedic duties at the same time.
It takes 110 hours of training to be a basic EMT, and 400 hours for intermediate. This is a lot to ask of a volunteer. But the four paid staff members at Red Lodge Fire Rescue are all Critical Care Paramedics, which requires 1,280 hours of instruction -- over seven months of fulltime training.
Each year, some of our volunteers move away, resign, or leave for other reasons. Our paid staff must train their replacements. This year, we've added 7 new firefighters and 4 new EMTs. Next year, we'll need 7 more firefighters. If the ambulance district passes, we'll need 5 new volunteer EMTs. If it doesn't, we'll need 24 to make up for the fulltime employees that will be laid off. Someone has to train and coordinate these people, and that's what our fulltime staff is for.
Do you want to be a volunteer firefighter or EMT? They are accepting applications now for the January recruit classes. Stop by the firehouse to pick up an application.
Accusations have also flown of wasted taxpayer money. A closer look shows that Fire Chief Tom Kuntz and his staff have landed around $1.3 million in grants in the last ten years, which has funded most of the fire trucks and building improvements.
The complaint which amuses me the most regards the exercise room at the fire station. First of all, if there's an emergency, I want the firefighters and EMTs that respond to be in good enough shape to hoist my considerable bulk and carry me to safety. Secondly, the equipment in that room was donated, not purchased with tax money.
In a nutshell, we need to keep our current level of service and the City of Red Lodge doesn't have the money to keep it going. All of us who live in the proposed ambulance district (in or out of city limits) need to vote yes on the special ballot, and pony up the paltry $69 per year to pay our fair share.
Hi. The Red Lodge EMS Volunteers provide a service that could not be bought for any price. There are 43 (as of today) dedicated, competent and skilled people in and around Red Lodge that volunteer over 24,000 hours of service in the provision of Emergency Medical Services. They run over 500 calls each year. The volunteers are extremely valuable to our system. Our system is designed so that our volunteers have great support from a small force of paid paramedics. Double benefit. Great support for the volunteers and 24/7/52 paramedic level service. You do want our volunteers showing up to your emergency. Vote for the proposal and GO HUSKERS!
I am one of the paramedics who will lose their job if this vote does not pass. When you break it down, is $5.75 a month too much to ensure that a highly trained professional will arrive to answer your call for help quickly. Of course I have a personal stake in this issue, but as the father of a young child, I know that I want fast, professional help in an emergency, and $5.75/month is a cheap insurance policy. There is a lot of misinformation out there. I implore you, please get the facts if you have concerns, don't let something this important fail because you heard something that turned out to be innacurate later on. The fire department web site has a page dedicated to the issue with all the facts that voters need to know. I love doing what I do, and I hope the people speak and allow me to continue to fulfil my calling and save lives.
I agree that we need to maintain our current level of service. I for one don't want a volunteer to come to my aid should I need it, I want a trained fit EMT. I chuckle at the bargain $69 per year is when those of us in Red Lodge pay over $200 a year for trash pickup. Seems the amount should be reversed.
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