Archive for Thursday, February 8, 2007

EEMS merger possible

February 8, 2007

Talks started last month between city of Eudora officials and those with Douglas County about placing the local emergency medical service under city control.

process that might eventually put the Eudora Emergency Medical Service under city control began with a meeting Jan. 19.

At the meeting, Eudora City Fire Chief Randy Ates presented a proposal to Chief Mark Bradford of Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical and Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug that would place Eudora EMS under city management.

"Nothing is solid, it could derail tomorrow," Ates said.

The preliminary concept offered appealing aspects to the county, Weinaug said.

"We frankly appreciate the suggestion from the city of Eudora. They have become involved and we appreciate the fact they are willing to serve areas beyond the city of Eudora," Weinaug said.

Eudora EMS members serve as first-responders to emergency medical calls made within Eudora, Eudora Township and parts of Palmyra Township. They currently fall under jurisdiction of Lawrece-Douglas Country Fire & Medical.

The meeting marked the city's first discussion of the Eudora EMS' place within the county since last summer.

In May, Eudora EMS member Bill Vigneron approached the Eudora City Council asking to incorporate the service within the city. The council suggested talks with the city, county, Eudorafrom page 1a

Fire & Medical.

Representatives from the parties talked at the time but did not come to a definite conclusion, Eudora City Administrator Cheryl Beatty said.

While the city has started the ball rolling with the county, the members of Eudora EMS said they have been left in the dark.

Finding Answers

Vigneron said he was fine with the city taking supervision of Eudora EMS. But the way it was happening bothered him and other members in the service, he said.

For them, wheels seemed to be in motion concerning the future of their service. They felt they had no control over it or even involvement, Vigneron said.

"This is part of the whole cloud here," he said. "We don't know first of all where it's coming from, and we're not sure why, and we don't know why it's being handled the way it is. That's what the frustration is."

Eudora EMS director Sarah Nordin shared Vigneron's frustration. She had several meetings with Ates since she took over as head of Eudora EMS in December.

Between then and the end of January, rumors have been swirling concerning where Eudora EMS might end up.

Nordin called a meeting Jan. 28 to discuss the situation with both the Eudora EMS board and members. Ates was there to offer input, she said.

"The general reaction I got was that everyone was kind shocked, and I think a little bit upset," Nordin said.

Possible changes hit members particularly hard because of the time and energy invested into the service, she said.

"We finally see it turning around, and we feel like the rug has been ripped out from underneath us," Nordin said.

Members from Eudora Township also have concerns about their place in a merged service.

Dustin McCaffee works for the service and serves as a Eudora Township firefighter. He said Eudora EMS members have learned little from city officials about what was going on

"It's almost like a hostile take over and they've tried to keep it from us," he said.

Moving forward

Ates said he understood the frustration of Eudora EMS members about the structure of the merger, its timetable and their future with the service, but there nothing concrete on the table yet to share with them.

"I can see that uncertainty. That fear," Ates said. "It's even more frustrating when there's no ready answers. I completely understand their frustration."

Ates said he would have included Eudora EMS officials sooner if he could.

"We don't have anything solid to present to them, which kind of leaves them in the dark," Ates said.

He began the process as a way to make Eudora EMS's request of last May a reality, Ates said.

"I believe there are some misconceptions that the city is out take to them over or out to get them or something and that makes no sense to me," Ates said.

He wrote the proposal to help make the service stronger, he said.

"There's a lot of advantages," Ates said. "With structured leadership, then they have someone who is available to handle equipment breakdowns, employment or help them recruit volunteers."

The county is in the driver's seat in the discussions with the city, Beatty said.

"The only thing the city of Eudora is trying to do is offer a way to resolve issues and to find a way to provide a better, consistent, long-term service that would be available all the time," she said.

City management of the service could mean more money for the service and give them a well-defined set of procedures, Beatty said. But she said it would be the same people making the same runs.

"It's basically getting able to find a full-time person who would be able to manage it all the time," Beatty said.

Any progress or changes are at least weeks down the road, Beatty said.

"It's just in the idea stage. We're not going to the county again until I go to the city council and that discussion will primarily be at first be in executive session," Beatty said.

The discussion would center on whether or not to instruct the city attorney to draft an interlocal agreement authorizing the merger.

"At this point, it (the city) would be offering management services only," Beatty said.

After the city drafts and decides to accept the agreement, it would go next to the Douglas County Commission.

Weinaug said he saw the merger happening soon.

"My perception is that all the key parties involved, unless we get surprised by the elected officials, are pretty much in agreement conceptually. Usually when that happens, the details are easier to work out," Weinaug said. "I think it's a matter of weeks instead of many months, but I could be wrong,"

Weinaug said he could see the final interlocal agreement involving the county, Lawrence-Douglas Country Fire & Medical, Eudora EMS and Eudora Township.

Eudora EMS members will be involved with the discussion from the moment the council makes a decision to draft the interlocal agreement, Beatty said.

"People are uncomfortable with change no matter what we do," Beatty said. "With this change, we're bound to have some people be uncomfortable with the idea. I think I can reassure people I believe this change is only going to be a huge improvement in the long term, maybe not in the short term."

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