ILWACO - Thomas O'Donohue, chief of Pacific County Fire Protection District No. 1, dropped a bombshell of sorts Monday night at the Ilwaco City Council meeting. As of 8 a.m. Monday, June 16, the district will take over the Long Beach Ambulance Service calls in Ilwaco and Chinook.
"The district has hired 13 new employees, and a second station will be in place in Seaview and staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week," O'Donohue said. "This will offer an enhanced ambulance service to the community. During the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial, this area will be hit hard with a predicted 30 percent growth in call volumes."
The plan is for a medical service officer to review every ambulance run, O'Donohue said, "To assure that we meet very high standards. We'll meet with the medical program director to review critical calls."
And, a doctor will meet every critical call to assure that we meet his or her standards.
O'Donohue said the decision to basically put Long Beach Ambulance Service out of business was difficult. "They've been around a long time. But, this is a time of growth and change." Word of the change has been circulating behind the scenes for several weeks.
An agreement has been reached that PCFPD 1 will hire four Long Beach paramedics and purchase one of its ambulances. The paramedics "will be trained to meet Firefighter 1 state standards," O'Donohue said. "This agreement means we will have quicker response time and increased care. Naselle and Chinook also will benefit."
Marsha Glasson, administrator of the non-profit Long Beach Ambulance Service for 24 years, said it was founded in 1947 by Long Beach volunteer firemen.
The chain of events leading up to the takeover by PCFPD began, Glasson said, when O'Donohue said the district would be manning the Seaview station.
"That's their area," she said. "It is part of the district and has been collecting taxes for several years.
"That didn't put us out of business," Glasson said. "But when they told us they would take half the out-of-town transfers, it did put us out of business. We'll shut the service down. We have no plans for the building but, since it's a non-profit organization, it will be used for a good purpose. The best thing to do is wait till the dust settles."
Ken Ramsey, president of the ambulance service board, said Tuesday the service "will liquidate as many assets as we can and are trying to create a trust to be used for local fire departments. I hope it works. The district has put a lot of time and money into making this plan work. I wish them the best and hope it all works out for the community as a whole."
"We have no choice other than going with the district," Ilwaco Volunteer Fire Department Chief Tom Williams said Tuesday. "But I don't see our volunteers sticking around. I feel the volunteers have provided a good service to the community at a reasonable fee."
Williams says he questions the district on the fact that customers outside the fire district will receive service on an on-call basis and won't have to pay the 50 cents per $1,000 of property valuation that district residents now pay.
Ilwaco has its own ambulance and also an ambulance owned by Long Beach. Both are kept in Ilwaco and staffed by volunteers. And, Pacific County Fire Protection District No. 2, in Chinook, has no ambulance but has a paramedic and an EMT who help Ilwaco volunteers in the Chinook response area.
"I think the general public needs to know what's going on here," Williams said. "I have concerns that they will rely on strictly paid people and that will cost money. During Monday's City Council meeting, Williams said the takeover "is the beginning of the end. It will force Ilwaco and its volunteers not to respond. There will be problems. The majority of the volunteers in Ilwaco aren't for it."
"The economic reality is, I don't think the Peninsula can afford two ambulance services," Ilwaco Mayor Ed Leonard said Monday. "We could afford it in the past, but the requirements and expectations grow every year. We want better equipment, better trained personnel and better service. All these things cost money. What we're hoping for is that having consolidated service will save money." But, Leonard added, "It will take a long time to work this out."
"Our number one goal is customer service," O'Donohue said Monday. "We take that very seriously. We saw gaps in service and areas that needed serious improvement. We looked for a win-win situation."
The consolidation means people living outside the district's taxing area will pay about $120 more than a district resident for an ambulance trip.
An Ilwaco resident asked who will respond if he calls 9-1-1 for an ambulance. "Ilwaco volunteers will still be responsible and the Ilwaco ambulance is still in place if it's needed," O'Donohue responded. "Tom Williams is still in charge. But District 1 will transport patients to the hospitals. Volunteers are our most precious commodity and the backbone of the departments. At a moment's notice they drop everything to go on calls. The district is here to provide ambulance service. Our response time will be quicker."
Leonard said there had been rumors of the consolidation of the service for years. "A month ago I was told 'It's going to happen.' because Long Beach was no longer viable." He said he was invited to attend an EMS and Trauma Council meeting and found himself "on the council without authority from the Ilwaco City Council. That's why I put it on the agenda tonight. It's not a finished product we're seeing and that's why we need an authorized member on the EMS Council."
The council approved naming Councilman David Jensen as the city's advisor on EMS and Trauma Council with Councilman David Fritts as alternate.
PCFPD Commissioner Greg McLeod said during Monday's meeting that the district "had been characterized as the bad guys." He said Long Beach Ambulance President Ken Ramsey said the service "had some real problems." In addition, "a couple of ambulance calls took longer than (O'Donohue) thought was viable - 44 minutes to the hospital for a five-minute trip. We wanted one-minute out-the-door response time so decided to put two people in Seaview. Long Beach voted on it and it was approved. We took on four paramedics no-holds-barred for a year. It won't cost Ilwaco anything. So on Monday, the district will step up to the plate. The alternative is no service."
"It would have been nice to have had prior warning of a done deal," Council Member Victoria Stoppiello said.
"The events have been presented by Chief O'Donohue," Leonard said. "It's beyond my control."
Pacific County Commissioner Bud Cuffell said his big concern about the consolidation was "that the people in the community continue to receive adequate ambulance care. I believe they've addressed that. It sounds like the fire district is ready to take over and will hire employees from Long Beach so nobody will lose their jobs and taxpayers won't lose the service."