Emergency response at issue in Falls

NEWTON FALLS – The amount of time it took emergency personnel to reach an elderly woman having a stroke in her locked apartment at Willow Glen on Feb. 7 has other residents in the retirement complex outraged and concerned.

“If you’re going to have a stroke or a heart attack, have it in the morning or after midnight,” Bonnie Heinzl said.

She is one of several residents at the complex who plans on speaking out at the Newton Falls council meeting today. Heinzl said in all lifetime of living in Newton Falls she always thought they had EMS 24-7.

That is not the case. The Newton Falls Joint Fire District (a separate entity from the village and township) has no one working their 3 to 11 p.m. mid-shift. While scheduling when to have a medical emergency is not very practical advice, in the surrounding times there are without question two medical personnel on duty.

According to fire Chief Richard Bauman, these personnel also have access to the master key that unlocks the Knox Boxes which hold keys to enter the homes of elderly residents.

During the mid-shift the department relies on the response of volunteers, who do not always turn up when needed. When this happens, the call will ripple out to surrounding agencies, and finding a key to enter the home of an elderly resident may prove more difficult, like when the call went out at 8:30 p.m. Feb. 7 from Willow Glen.

“We have safety cords in all our rooms. She pulled it, but no one responded for quite a while, maybe even half an hour,” Heinzl said. “The damage [from the stroke] was so severe that she cannot return to us.”

In fact, though they are not medically trained, Newton Falls police were on scene within two minutes. When no volunteers from the fire district responded, Clemente Ambulance was then dispatched.

Getting the apartment unlocked took until the assistant fire chief responded at 9:05 p.m., according to dispatch records.

“If the cops are coming here, and they don’t have access to get in, what’s the point in them coming?” said Brent Weekley, head of the tenant association at Willow Glen.

Weekley said he spoke with the manager of the apartment complex and she agreed to give the police department access fobs to the complex. While that may prevent a similar issue at the apartment complex, Chief Bauman said it isn’t just a “one-town issue” but extends to the many local fire departments that rely on volunteers.

“You can’t force a volunteer to respond,” he said. “It’s an issue that we deal with on a day-to-day basis.”

Attempts have been made to spread out the overnight staff- having one medic on the mid-shift and one at night – however the experiment did not play out successfully since two personnel are needed by law to take an ambulance out.

“We just don’t have the funds to cover all the shifts, 24 hours a day,” said Greg Dubos, Fire Board member.

Dubos said paramedics and EMT are paid $14 and $11 per hour, respectively. To have two on duty from 3 to 11 p.m. would cost about $1,400 each week.

“What it would take is another levy,” he said.

mthompson@tribtoday.com