The Huxley Ambulance Service is facing some challenges that many small-towns across America are contending with: A lack of qualified volunteers and a lack of incentives to attract and retain them. The Huxley City Council listened to the concerns of EMS Deputy Chief Krista McGinn and Fire Chief Chad Anthony during last week’s council meeting, and voted to approve a temporary increase in the hourly stipend from a current rate of $4 an hour during the day and $2 an hour at night to $10 an hour during the day and $8 an hour at night, with a re-evaluation in February.
“This isn’t a job a random person off the street can do,” said McGinn. “We’d like to be able to utilize the resources we have in this community. Finding qualified people who can handle the stress at very little pay is difficult. We’ve struggled with younger generations to find volunteers. It’s a nationwide struggle.”
The Huxley Ambulance Service began seven years ago and currently has a staff of 9 EMT’s, but only three of those are currently able to be on-call due to various issues. Because of the low numbers of on-call volunteers, the service is only available from the hours of 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., seven days a week (There is still First Responder service at all times). Ideally, with more staff, the service would run 24/7. “For a small town, we run an ambulance service that rivals Mary Greeley’s level of care,” notes Fire Chief Chad Anthony. “Mary Greeley takes at least fifteen minutes to get here. We had an instance last week where, if the patron had to wait that extra amount of time, he would probably not have survived.”
For every call that comes in, the Huxley station strives to be out the door within four minutes of the call. The service logged 436 calls in 2015 and 402 calls in 2016. This year, the number of logged calls has dipped to 340—a direct result of the decrease in staffing, according to McGinn.
Volunteers must be within three miles of the station while on-call, creating a significant challenge in recruiting new volunteers. “Many surrounding towns have volunteers that already work for their city,” said McGinn. Huxley, for the most part, doesn’t have that advantage. Despite their passion for what they do, both McGinn and Anthony note that being on-call takes a toll on their personal lives. “You can be eating a nice dinner with your family, and the next thing you know, you’re being called to an emergency,” said McGinn, a third generation firefighter. “I wake up and I love my job, I love what I do for the community. I’d love to do more, but right now I can’t do that (due to lack of funding).” Chief Anthony adds: “We do it for a passion, but it reaches a point where it takes over our lives.”
The Great Debate: Revenue Maker vs. Service
One of the challenges facing City Councils across America is distinguishing the difference between something that is classified as a service and something that is designed to create revenue. When the Ambulance Service was started seven years ago, it was presented as a venture that would create revenue for the city—an issue that hasn’t been forgotten by some members of the council. It’s a divisive issue, one that will continue to arise in future discussions regarding the future of the Huxley Ambulance Service. During the current fiscal year, Huxley’s service has brought in $11,000 in revenue and spent around $7,000 on personnel. “We’re not doing it to make money,” said Anthony. “We’re doing it as a service to the community. Life safety isn’t revenue.”
The council will review the staffing issues and the hourly stipend at its February monthly meeting and perform a more detailed analysis during budget discussions in April and May.
Other council news:
•Food trucks could soon be making an appearance in Huxley, as the council approved a motion to allow them in city limits as long as they abide to city codes, applications and fees.
•A development agreement was approved for Innovative Technologies — a centrifuge company that plans to relocate from Humboldt to the old Blue Sky Commons area in Huxley.
•A temporary outdoor ice skating area could be in the works as local builder Chris Gardner, Bella Homes, plans to turn the sand volleyball courts on Main Street into a temporary ice rink over the winter months. Gardner plans to fund the project as a way to give back to the community.