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How long do we have to wait?

It’s been 15 weeks – nearly four months – since our first report on Buckeye Lake Village’s broken EMS service. Sadly, very little progress has been made.

In early September, Mayor Rick Baker appointed a fire department review committee that met three times in basically private meetings. We’ll address its report in a moment. Baker also issued 17 “administrative directives” to Fire Chief Pete Leindecker on Sept. 6. The most significant one – telling Leindecker to instruct the 9-1-1 Center to dispatch mutual aid after three minutes – has been ignored for more than three months.

The review committee’s report was presented orally at the Nov. 12 village council meeting. A written copy was provided on Nov. 15. The report highlights two issues – staffing and communication. On staffing, it states, “One of the main concerns was the lack of staffing, there were some unfulfilled shifts in the past. The main reason for the shortage was that four (4) part time employees resigned…”

The claimed loss of four part-time paid employees has become an urban legend. Leindecker first said the loss of these employees in May caused the staffing problems our investigation uncovered. His claim has been repeated by the mayor, council president and now the fire review committee, perhaps with the hope that if repeated often enough it will be believed.

It is patently false! The four part-time paid employees are Chris Redd, Pat Redd, Melissa Riyadi and Kyle Weekly. Weekly is the only one of the four who worked during our March through August 2012 review period. He was an unscheduled fill-in on March 6 and April 2. None of the four were on the monthly work schedules for March, February, January or December 2011. Weekly and Riyadi were on the schedules for October and November 2011; and Weekly, Riyadi and Pat Redd were on September 2011 schedule. When Leindecker started making excuses in August, none of them had been on the schedule for NINE MONTHS.

While we agree with the committee that “filling these positions with a qualified person is a time consuming process,” it doesn’t take NINE MONTHS. The report says Leindecker has hired five new part-time employees. Only four – Chris Garner, Clay Lamb, Lora Spencer and Brandon Tucker – have shown up on the monthly schedules.

A Sept. 10, 2012, public records request asked for copies of all part-time employment applications submitted since January 1, 2011. If the department honestly responded to our request, only one of the four new employees – Clay Lamb – applied before Sept. 10. Somehow the other three all started work before Lamb did on Sept. 10. So much for the committee’s claim that, “Each applicant must be thoroughly investigated and trained in the BLFD protocol before being placed on a vehicle.” At least one of the new employees didn’t even get a key to the station and was locked out when an overnight EMT left early.

Leindecker ignored critical gaps in staffing for at least NINE months and only took action after it was documented in this newspaper. That is dereliction of duty.

There is one person who was on the schedule in early 2012 (12 shifts in Jan & Feb) and then didn’t work after June 10 – Buckeye Lake EMS Coordinator and Captain Dave Ruton. He “no-showed” on two of his three scheduled shifts in June.

It is very disappointing that the review committee chose to accept Leindecker’s fictitious excuse, particularly when it is so easy to check. Time cards don’t lie.

Much is made of the “lack of effective communication” between village officials and the chief. The problem is really “competence,” not communication. What doesn’t the chief understand about filling three part-time PAID shifts everyday? He’s paid $450 per month to do it and taxpayers have provided sufficient resources to pay for the part-timers. In fact, the village’s fire fund carried over $155,389 from last year which is about $50,000 more than was spent on paid staff in 2011. Monthly department reports have been expected for years. Again his failure to accurately report on staffing is a competence problem, not a communication one. His failure does not excuse the mayor and council members from their oversight responsibilities. Even Ray Charles could see that the station often was not staffed or short-staffed.

The committee’s only significant recommendation simply reaffirms the Sept. 6 directive that mutual aid should be sent after three minutes rather than the current six to eight minutes. The can is now being kicked to council’s public safety committee. How many more months will pass before the necessary steps are taken to actually provide first-class EMS service in Buckeye Lake Village?

This is not a simulation or table-top exercise. Real calls for emergency medical help continue to come in. Strokes, heart attacks, problems breathing, falls etc. aren’t waiting for the mayor and council to get their act together.

Mutual aid has been dispatched nine times in November after subtracting automatic dispatches (two for non-breathers) and two others when Buckeye Lake was already on a run. The average elapsed time to dispatch mutual aid was 10:03 (10 minutes, three seconds). If your ‘chest pain’ call turns out to be a heart attack, that delay will likely kill you. The worst delay was 22:39 to dispatch Millersport for a stroke call. One Buckeye Lake EMT was on the scene in 12:25, but the patient didn’t reach the hospital for more than an hour (1:03:36) after the first dispatch. Quick treatment can reduce the long-term effects from a stroke. Hopefully, this patient wasn’t affected by the delay. Three of the mutual aid calls were on Nov. 1 when only one of the three daily shifts was filled.

We don’t need to look for grants, improve communication or rearrange the deck chairs in committee meetings. The fix is less than a mile away – the Village of Hebron. Rather than trying to cobble together a basic life support unit, we can contract for a no-waiting, advanced life support unit. No more waiting for a second or even one EMT-Basic to respond. A paramedic will be on every run. We can have first class EMS service in a matter of days. It’s time to get it done!

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