County faces impending EMT crisis

<I>Photo by Michael Lane</I><BR>The Enterprise ambulance rolls out on a call.

The emergency medical technician (EMT) situation in Wallowa County is reaching a "crisis point", said local EMT coordinator Reta Warner. At present Enterprise has two ambulances and Wallowa one, and eight to 10 EMTs are carrying the burden of nearly every emergency call.

"If we lose one key person we would have a lot of trouble covering ambulance calls," Warner said. "We might have to drop from three person crews to two person crews and that is not adequate coverage for a frontier rural area."

Although there are 20 EMTs in Wallowa County, Warner said, many are only on call for limited hours. When on call, personnel must be within five minutes response time of an ambulance.

The proposed remedy to the situation begins Oct. 11, when persons interested in providing a service for their neighbors can start a new EMT class taught by Warner. The class runs from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays and lasts into April. "To fill this class is absolutely critical," Warner said.

The cost of the class is $711 plus the cost of a book, but scholarships of up to $645 are available for as many as 14 students. Priority will be given to prospective students from Wallowa and Enterprise. Warner said that potential EMTs need not have any medical background, must have a high school diploma and must be 18 years of age. She said that students, in classes taught at Wallowa Memorial Hospital, will be taught basic life saving skills. "People tend to underestimate their abilities in EMT situations," she said.

"To say that we have three ambulances in the area and that they are all staffed is not accurate," Warner said. She said that on Monday the Wallowa ambulance was not staffed and that only one of Enterprise's two ambulances had three people on call. "We go on a call to Troy and the county is left with no backup," she said. "And that is scary."

EMTs in Wallowa County are paid $1 per hour for every hour they are on call. Wages during emergency runs vary from $10 an hour to $18 an hour, depending on the credentials of the EMT.

Warner said that some EMTs, especially in Wallowa, are taking 400 to 500 hours of calls each month "and that is just too much." She said that some Wallowa EMTs are on call 24-hours a day, seven days a week for weeks at a time.

Persons interested in taking the EMT class can contact Kate Barratt at the Blue Mountain Community College office in Enterprise.

The phone number is 426-4109 and Barratt will have information about scholarships.

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