Clearwater to end local ambulance service

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“It kind of scares me.  It really does,” Renee Carter says of her hometown’s plan to stop offering a local ambulance service.

Clearwater’s city council voted unanimously Tuesday evening to close the local ambulance service, saying the city can no longer afford to operate it.

The city manager points out Clearwater is the last city in Sedgwick County to still provide its own ambulance service.  But, he says, at nearly a third of their projected budget for next year, they just couldn’t figure out a way to keep paying for it. 

A lot of folks who live in Clearwater are worried about what this decision will mean for them.

“I fell from a swing with my grandkids and broke my ankle,” said Karen Randa about the time she rode in a Clearwater ambulance for treatment.  She also called it several times for her late husband, “Because he was deathly ill.”

Renee Carter has only lived in Clearwater a few months.  She’s already had to use the local ambulance.  And she’s not alone.

“I know we’ve had quite a few in the neighborhood with heart attacks lately,” she added.

It only takes a few minutes in town to find someone who’s needed the help of the city’s ambulance service.

“I called and they were very prompt and very alert and very noticeable of my needs,” Carter said.

Learning Wednesday about their city council’s decision scares some.  Randa thinks of all the places in the city with people prone to injuries.

“The nursing home, the care center, a lot of young kids around, you know, the swimming pool being here,” she said.  “Things happen, you know? Accidents happen and people need an instant service.”

“This was an emotional decision for our council. And I understand that,” said Ron Marsh, Clearwater’s city administrator.

Marsh says they tried, but couldn’t figure out a way to keep paying for the equipment and staff to operate the city’s two ambulances next year. 

“(It) was going to be $365,000 for the EMS service,” he explained. “It’s about 31% (of the city’s budget).”

Marsh says the ambulances answered about 250 calls last year. 

At the end of July those calls will begin going to a Sedgwick County Ambulance.  Post 6 at 63rd St S and Mabel in Haysville is the closest ambulance.  The county says Clearwater will also be served by Post 7 in Goddard and Post 5 at Central and Caddy in Wichita, based on traffic and projected drive times.

This doesn’t reassure folks like Carter and Randa.

“It’s the accidents, the injuries that happen,” Randa said.  “And we have to wait for, you know, services outside of town.  That concerns me.”

Many fear a 30 minute or longer delay.  KAKE News drove from downtown Clearwater to Post 6 in Haysville.  The drive took about 15 minutes, doing the speed limit and with limited traffic.

“You know, driving 60 miles an hour as a citizen is a lot different than driving 80 or whatever they drive in an ambulance,” Marsh points out.

The county says adding personnel to staff a post in Clearwater will be a budget consideration for fiscal 2020, which is currently being developed.  There would be no changes in staffing or post locations this year.

Meanwhile, Marsh says Clearwater is working to set up a first responders unit for several of its firefighters and ambulance volunteers with EMT or paramedic training.  While they wouldn’t have an ambulance, they would likely be the first to arrive at medical calls in the area to provide emergency aid.

“We’ll still provide the best service we can,” he said.