FAIRFIELD BAY, Ark. – In an emergency, there’s nothing more important than knowing help is right around the corner.
For months, that exact issue has been the topic of debate in the City of Fairfield Bay as city leaders look at replacing their volunteer EMS team with a paid advanced life support unit.
Tuesday, those volunteers arrived at work to find the doors locked, and no way to access their trucks or gear. In response to the sudden cutoff, community members mobbed the special-called city council meeting Wednesday afternoon to show their frustration over the move.
KARK4 first reported on the volunteer emergency medical services department in March. At that time, Mayor Linda Duncan and council members were floating the idea of replacing them, with the basic life support team being upgraded to a country-run ALS service.
But this week’s temporary shutdown came as the result of an audit, a “human resources” inquiry conducted by an outside firm that required the department to shut down. City council members couldn’t say more on why the audit was being done, and to whom or what.
What followed was an outpouring of community support for the long running volunteer team. Citizens looked for answers at the meeting but found none.
The meeting turned emotional as the Fairfield Bay community begged city councilmen and women for answers. Mayor Duncan had left prior to the community portion of the meeting; instead, a staff member handed out a prewritten release on the closure.
The statement says, in part, “In light of some new developments the City is required to take some temporary administrative steps involving the Fairfield Bay EMS Ambulance. These steps are required by Human Resources protocols for the State of Arkansas. While our inquiry into these matters is being conducted, the Fairfield Bay EMS ambulance service is temporarily unavailable; however, we are exploring avenues to resume service as soon as possible.”
According to volunteers, EMS members arrived at work Tuesday to find the locks changed and a message from the Mayor that they were temporarily shut down.
Deputy Captain Tim Hallet was shocked at the move. He’s served the retirement community for years as an EMS responder.
“To be shut down and not able to help these people,” Hallet tearfully said, “what could happen breaks my heart.”
Neighbors like Kasey Kimmons were also upset. She says nursing homes and assisted living facilities like Indian Rock Village where she works can’t operate without nearby medical support. “If there is an emergency that they have to respond to on the other side of the county,” Kimmons explained, “that is putting you at risk of waiting an hour or two hours or three hours for medical aid.”
The mayor’s statement says the county EMS unit, Medic One, has agreed to provide an ambulance to the area as the volunteer EMS is closed. But team members present at the meeting say although they’ll still respond to calls in the city like they always have, the unit had not promised to move a truck in.
City council members said they wished they could do more as neighbors left without answers. The future of the department is still unknown as city leaders approved the audit during Wednesday’s meeting. Some said they hoped the shutdown would be less than a week.
While the team waits to return to work, the city will be covered by the county-wide ambulance service.
The closest station is about 10 minutes away from Fairfield Bay, although team members at the meeting said county EMTs were already working overtime as it is.