Town of Barnes (Bayfield County) representatives asked the Sawyer County Public Safety Committee June 6 to have the Sawyer County Ambulance Service help with all their ambulance calls.
Sawyer County Emergency Medical Service (EMS) administrator Nate Dunston said the Town of Barnes is asking Sawyer County to respond to all of the town’s ambulance calls with a paramedic vehicle to do intercepts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This would be about 65 calls per year, for which Barnes would be charged $20,000, he said. The cost to have one EMT and one paramedic respond to each call would be around $34,675 per year, billed to Barnes, he added.
Town of Barnes representative Guy Johnston said their ambulance department has six to seven personnel who respond to calls. “Finding volunteers for sustainable, dependable service is a hard thing to do,” he said. “Our population (including about 700 year-round residents) is aging.”
Johnston said that Barnes advertised to hire two full-time EMTs but received no applicants as of May 31. With their existing service, “We don’t always know when we have people available (to respond to calls). The clock starts to tick,” he said. In instances where Sawyer EMS personnel respond to a call and then Barnes finds they are not needed, they could be canceled, he added.
Johnston said the Town of Barnes has budgeted for two new EMTS and a new fire station, including ambulance quarters with two bedrooms, which is being built.
“There is a willingness and awareness that we need to spend some money to make that service work,” Johnston said. “Relying on volunteers is wonderful, but in this day and age it’s hard to come by.”
Dunston said in a lot of the calls he’s responded to, the patient is in critical condition and an air ambulance (helicopter) is called in.
Johnston said they met with Great Divide Ambulance Service but “our discussion has been mixed. We never got to the point of coming up with numbers. Then Great Divide shifted their focus to the east and north (Glidden, Marengo) and they opened up another facility to the east.”
Also, Gold Cross out of Duluth-Superior “was not interested in providing us with that type of service,” Johnston said.
Committee member Dale Schleeter said Sawyer County EMS now provides service to several townships west of Hayward in Washburn County, and Sawyer County charges those towns for the service.
Dunston said the patient is billed for intercept service, but Sawyer County has not had a call from Barnes since Jan. 1. “During our busy season, we sometimes struggle to get trucks moving here in Sawyer County. Our county is first priority.”
Dunston added that a call from Barnes takes 40 minutes to arrive on scene, and an average call from Hayward to Barnes averages 55 miles. Under the existing mutual aid agreement, if Barnes ambulance is already on a call and they get a second call, whoever is closest will respond with an ambulance, whether Sawyer County, Great Divide, Gold Cross or Mayo, Dunston said.
Under an agreement signed in May 2018, Sawyer County EMS bills Barnes Ambulance $500 per call and also bills the patient, Dunston said. Under the existing intercept agreement, a paramedic will meet Barnes ambulance on scene or on a highway, get into the ambulance and provide advanced care, Dunston added. Barnes then will bill the patient and will refund Sawyer County the advanced life support (ALS) rate, which is about $250, he said.
“I’m certainly in favor of helping our neighbors, but we can’t afford to take on any more operational cost,” Schleeter said.
The committee agreed to work with Barnes to come up with more detailed costs before acting on any proposal.
The committee voted to ask the full county board to reconsider a proposal to borrow up to $622,975 to construct an ambulance facility near the junction of Highways 27 and 70 in Ojibwa. This proposal failed to pass by one vote at the board’s May 16 meeting.
The cost to the taxpayer to pay off the debt is projected at two cents per $1,000 of equalized value for each of the 10 years of debt service.
Chief deputy to retire
Sawyer County Chief Deputy Sheriff Craig Faulstich announced that he will retire July 12 after 36 years in law enforcement. He thanked the sheriffs he’s worked with and the public safety committee for its support.
Former sheriff Mark Kelsey said, “I never had to worry about (Faulstich) doing something dishonorable. He’s an honorable man who served well.”
Committee member Helen Dennis said, “We will miss you. You are an asset to our county.”