MATTOON -- Medical calls Thursday evening and an accident Friday afternoon resulted in Mattoon emergency personnel calling in ambulances from out of town for help with patient care and transport.
This comes after the Mattoon Fire Department's ambulance service ended July 25 in a move directed by the city council that drew criticism in the community. The council has cited budget concerns for the decision.
"We were short ambulances," MFD Chief Tony Nichols said Friday. "Charleston had to come over. We had to send some of our personnel with Dunn's Ambulance and they're actually going to Carle. CFD had to be dispatched to come over to take the third patient."
The accident Friday occurred at Odd Fellow Road and Old State Road. Details on the collision weren't immediately available from the Coles County Sheriff's Office.
"Hopefully this is just a growing pain. We’ll continue to watch this," said City Administrator Kyle Gill. "We will make adjustments as needed.
"If it’s not going to be able to be handled (by two private ambulance services), then we have some options of either requiring a certain number of ambulances every day or opening up a third ambulance service," Gill said. "I hope this is just a growing pain."
Greg Jerdan, owner of Mitchell-Jerdan Ambulance Service, said the auto accident occurred during a time when Mitchell-Jerdan was temporarily short staffed.
"We are not on 911 this week," he said, explaining that this means Dunn's is first to be called out for a 911 call on Mitchell-Jerdan's "off" week, and vice versa. "Every other week is rotated between Dunn's and us."
Officials with Dunn's Ambulance Services Inc. couldn't be reached immediately for comment.
"We were only short-staffed for a period of a few hours under a rare situation (and) something happened beyond our control," Jerdan said. "This is not a situation that is common. Since the City of Mattoon has gotten out of the ambulance business, then I believe that the events have been very calm and handled quite properly."
Thursday night, as well, a shortage of ambulances to cover Mattoon was seen, according to Nichols.
"CFD had to come over cover for Dunn's two times. They were both medicals. I don't know the severity of them," he said. "They did dispatch our ALS engines out. We were able to respond and start care until CFD arrived and then they took over."
Bart Owen, president of Mattoon Firefighters Local 691, said there is a need for more ambulances than are now running in Mattoon.
“I was there when it was happening last night,” he said Friday. “We knew this was going to happen.”
He chalks much of the shortage up to a staffing problem he said exists for the private ambulance services.
“M-J (Mitchell-Jerdan) or Dunn’s has not had the employees to both staff two full-time ALS ambulances,” Owen said. “There’s a shortage of medics for the private services. The issue right now I think is staffing for them."
But Jerdan said finding personnel is not a problem for his service.
“This morning for a couple-hour period we were down to one ambulance," Jerdan said Friday. "We were fully staffed at that time. We are fully staffed and for the next coming two-week period in our staffing time we’re a minimum of two ambulances or three deep.
"Today there was a two-hour period when we were down to one rig and on a rare occasion that’s what happens and that’s what did happen -- that’s what mutual aid is for," Jerdan added.
Criticism by many in the community was high over the last few months as the city council planned to end the fire department's ambulance service and the firefighters' union sparred with the city over the issue. Multiple people both in the department and in the public at large cited a fear that the two private ambulance services could not properly cover Mattoon themselves.
City leaders countered that the MFD ambulance service was losing funds and that a pair of ambulance services should be able to cover the city's needs.
Nichols said he was on vacation as the MFD service stopped on July 25, but he said on the first week, he understands Charleston firefighters' ambulance was put on standby more than once to help Mattoon between that date and Aug. 1.
"The very first week that started...they had been called to the airport a couple of times," Nichols said of the CFD ambulance.
Gill said he is monitoring the situation and the performance of both private ambulance services, which each were given their licenses to operate under newly adopted city rules Thursday.
“The ordinance that we passed does not say how many ambulances they have to run on a daily basis," Gill said. "It’s all on performance. Of course the less ambulances they have available, the performance is going to go down.
“Some of the things that happened I’m still looking into," he said. "The bad car accident … there was three people that needed to be transported so it took three ambulances, that way Charleston had to get pulled over. That’s not what we want to see happen of course. We don’t want that to continue.”
Gill said Mattoon emergency services requesting aid from other communities is not unprecedented.
"There’s always been times when other agencies would come over even when we had three ambulances," Gill said. "There is times when everything happens all at once; we just don’t want that to be a common occurrence.
"We’ll make sure that the citizens are taken care of.”
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