Township trustees, county officials and EMTs were among many who gathered Saturday morning at a special meeting of Seneca County commissioners to discuss the future of Seneca County EMS.
At the meeting, Seneca County EMS Director Ken Majors proposed his idea of implementing multiple joint ambulance districts instead of one countywide ambulance district. He said the concept would help alleviate the county's current staffing problem.
"We know that the situation is dire when it comes to manning our EMS units," Majors said. "So it's important we understand the severity of that and move forward with a plan to alleviate it."
Majors said three out of the county's seven squads now often are out of service due to low volunteer numbers. Ideally, he said, each squad should have a two-person crew 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Another issue also has been squads refusing to report their out-of-service times, Majors said.
"I'm raising the red flag that we need help," Majors said. "The sky hasn't fallen yet, but if you read the out-of-service schedule, you'll see where the need is."
By creating four joint fire districts and having a board consisting of one member from each township or village, monthly meetings would allow those members to discuss and solve issues such as personnel and operations within their territory.
Bloomville EMS is looking to organize within its own township and include the village of Bloomville and Bloom Township. This would form a joint board that would operate the EMS and help coordinate recruiting efforts. That district would cover only Bloom Township and the village of Bloomville, along with mutual aid to other county squads as it is organized today.
Nate Blaser, chief of Bloom Township Volunteer Fire Department, was at the meeting Saturday and said that in the county, there needs to be more interaction between the people who sign the agreement to staff the squad and the people who are trying to run the squad. They need to work together to get more volunteers, he said.
"By getting together once a month to talk about it will help the situation, it certainly won't hurt it," he said.
Seneca County Commissioner Jeff Wagner also said Saturday the monthly meetings would help in finding ways to recruit new EMTs.
Majors said another possibility in having the joint districts would be for townships to join the already formed Bascom Joint Ambulance District, providing Bascom would allow it. The Bascom Joint Ambulance District has a property tax millage of 1.2 mills, which allows its volunteer EMTs to be paid a fee of $3.50 an hour. It is the only district that pays its volunteers.
"They have pretty close to 30 volunteers and people calling to be added to the waiting list," Majors said.
To be able to pay volunteers in each district, each district and township would have to pass a property tax millage.
"If larger districts are created, it may be cheaper to the taxpayers because the cost would be spread over a larger area," Majors said.
Several attendees at the meeting Saturday offered opinions on solutions for the problem, including some who supported the idea of having joint districts and others who believed a county-wide program would work.
Green Springs Mayor Adam Greenslade was at the meeting and suggested having a county-wide EMS system would provide better consistency than having districts.
Greenslade said the village has been having a hard time keeping paid police officers and retaining EMTs would also be a challenge.
Majors, however, said the span of control would be too big with a county wide district.
One person suggested the Seneca County Commissioners take hold of the problem, while others supported the idea of having a flat rate nominal fee to pay volunteers.
Area fire chiefs, including William Ennis of Tiffin Fire Rescue Division and Keith Loreno of Fostoria Fire Division, also were in attendance. Loreno suggested looking more into a countywide EMS district, while Ennis said he supports the idea of having joint districts. Ennis said by doing so, there would be more control on the local level and the residents would be better served.
Seneca County Sheriff Bill Eckelberry also is a supporter of the joint districts and said a nominal fee would help recruit and retain EMTs. He said with one countywide EMS district, local issues may not be addressed.
At the end of the meeting Saturday, Majors told those in attendance townships and villages needed to take the initiative to meet and begin finding a solution.
"We need you guys to make these meetings and make it happen," he said. "I'm just showing you the path, you need to walk it."