By Deb Murphy
It’s tough to recruit, train and certify EMTs in the Eastern Sierra, but the White Mountain Fire Protection District seems to have found the right formula. The district that runs along the Hwy. 6 corridor from Hammil Valley to Benton went from one to 13 EMTs over the last year and now it’s waiting for Mono County’s budget workshop in May to see if a $300,000 proposal is funded.
Fire Chief Dave Doonan and Commissioner Chris Carter pitched the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, outlining what they feel is a sustainable program to provide emergency medical service to the 35-mile long corridor. Until now, Doonan told the board, ambulance service has been a matter of luck.
Three studies since 1991 outlined the problem for the underserved area. Carter told the Board the proposal represented the solution.
What Mono County gets for that $300,000 is substantial. The district would recruit, support and maintain an all-volunteer staff, lease a second ambulance, build a facility in Hammil to supplement the existing station in Benton, assure a 20-minute response time for Basic Life Support calls and a 45-minute response time for Advanced Life Support calls by transferring to Symons out of Bishop. In addition, the district would continue to pay for insurance, Workers’ Compensation and fuel and add the task of purchasing supplies directly. Mono County would continue to handle the billing to offset the funding.
The County already owns land for that second station in Hammil, but it’s in a flood plain. “They can sell that site and use the money to buy another one,” Doonan said in a phone interview. He’s already got a couple of potential sites in mind. The new facility could be funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture with a long-term, low-interest loan, repaid with part of that $300,000.
The district has already started an outreach program to raise the stature and trust of the community. “For a while there were folks who’d rather take a horse and buggy to the hospital than call 911,” Doonan told the Supervisors. All that is changing.
That sort of recognition is important in recruiting and keeping volunteers. The stipend of $100 for being on call and $300 for taking a call also helps. One of the reasons the district needed a fleet of EMTs was to keep the stipend below the approved level of pay for volunteer services.
Following the presentation, the Board and CAO Leslie Chapman agreed to include the proposal in the coming budget cycle and continue discussion at budget workshops in May. That’s exactly what Doonan and Carter wanted.