Columbus Mayor Jim Bulkley, City Administrator Tara Vasicek and Fire Chief Ryan Gray have fielded questions from concerned residents in recent days in regard to fire department operations.
Last week, the City of Columbus published an article on its website to address EMS services to Columbus Rural and Duncan Rural fire protection districts. In an effort to keep accurate information in front of the public, City leaders are hoping to address some of those concerns in this follow-up article.
For decades, the City of Columbus has assumed the cost associated with providing Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to Duncan Rural and Columbus Rural fire protection districts. But, as the times have changed and the cost has swelled, there’s a push to find an alternative arrangement.
“It seems that no one wants to accept that for 50-plus years the City of Columbus has been providing these services at no cost, but now that it has been brought to light, it does,” Mayor Jim Bulkley said.
“It’s like if your high school child has been sneaking out your basement window. You don’t know he or she is doing it, but once you do, you stop it. The same applies here.”
EMS is not an essential service, according to the State Legislature, so no single entity is technically responsible for any party to provide the services. Despite this, City of Columbus leaders are concerned services could fall by the wayside for rural areas or negatively affect Columbus residents in the future if a solution isn’t figured out soon.
Questions over the ending of the volunteer program have come to City leaders’ attention, but they noted transitioning to the paid reserve system was necessary.
“The volunteer program was ended with a move to paid reserve because the number of ‘active volunteers’ had declined to about eight. Sure, there were more volunteers that belonged, but only about eight who regularly responded to calls,” Bulkley said, adding that having paid-reserve members ready to go should help improve response times to calls that come in on a moment’s notice. “This is all well documented.”
The paid reserve program currently has 20 members and continues to blossom. Vasicek said the paid-reserve program has truly helped City taxpayers in many ways since its inception last year.
“The reserve program has more participation and is costing the City of Columbus taxpayers less than what the volunteer program did when it ended,” she affirmed.
Bulkley, Gray and Vasicek also heard from a few concerned residents who suggested the charge that comes with utilizing EMS services should help cover the rural districts, but that isn’t the case.
“The charge for an ambulance response does not cover the true cost of services or the cost of staffing a fire station 24/7/365,” Vasicek said. “It never has and it never will.”
Gray has been at the helm of the Columbus Fire Department for a little more than a year, and the mayor said he has done an excellent job so far.
“Chief Gray has walked into situations that have come to a head much sooner than we expected, but he has stepped up and been an excellent department manager who has addressed the issues recognizing that he is responsible for the needs best for the City,” Bulkley said.
City leaders understand the EMS services discussion is not an easy one for any of the parties involved to discuss, but it boils down to what’s right for Columbus.
“The City of Columbus’ taxpayers should not be paying for a service for non-residents,” Vasicek said.
Anyone with questions or concerns is asked to contact the mayor, city administrator, or fire chief directly. The City is committed to providing accurate information about happenings via articles and postings on its website and official social media channels.
“We are all happy to answer any questions the public has about any matter,” Vasicek said. “We also encourage the public to check out our website and social media pages to stay informed.”