COLUMBUS JUNCTION — Looking at the old ambulance, complete with 1990s wood trim in the back, which sits in the bay of the Louisa County Ambulance Service in Columbus Junction, director Linda Verink says that she and the ambulance had joined the service at about the same time.
The year was 1998 and Verink was taking her EMT certification classes. As part of the training, she was doing ride-alongs with EMTs in Louisa County. She recalls the ambulance being the vehicle she first responded to an emergency. The incident was a call where a subject was having trouble breathing. The subject was transported to the hospital.
“I was scared to death,” she recalls with a laugh. “Your adrenaline is pumping so hard. The training and experience has made a big difference.”
While she still has many years left to her career, the ambulance she began the career in is almost obsolete. Finding parts to service the 1998 Ford is no longer an easy thing to do. Verink said recently she had to replace the siren on the ambulance, which required her taking the existing 1998 siren out, taking photos of it, and sending the photos to a supplier, hoping they could find something that would fit.
Last fall it was determined that the ambulance needed to be replaced. The only problem with that is the price tag of a new ambulance. For the volunteer EMS department, the cost of a $250,000 ambulance is something that is several years away. The department is funded partially by property taxes, but does not receive money from the city.
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“The ambulance isn’t that much but with some of the new rulings if you buy an ambulance it says you have to have special extra lift cots in them and those run about $50,000,” Aimee Boul, EMT and public relations chair, said. “So now we are looking at about $300,000. It just keeps getting worse.”
The first fundraiser scheduled since the decision to work on replacing the ambulance will be a trivia night at 5 p.m. Feb. 22 in the Muscatine National Guard Armory at 5901 Highway 61S. Tables are $80 for an eight-person team. There will also be a silent auction and a 50/50 raffle. Funds will go to the new ambulance rig and for protective gear for the paramedics.
It was also as an EMT hopeful that Verink learned about the “golden hour.” This hour — from the time of an incident until a patient arrives at a hospital — is the amount of time EMTs consider to have that they can get someone care and give them a better chance of survival. Verink said the closest ambulance services to the area are in Wapello, Washington or Muscatine, depending on where a patient is. In Columbus Junction, each is about a 30-minute drive.
Louisa County Ambulance has about 50 volunteer EMTs or above. The Columbus Junction headquarters is always staffed. Anyone calling at any time will be able to get an EMT or paramedic and an ambulance driver. The department regularly handles close to 700 calls per year, with the majority of calls being difficulty breathing, chest pain and falls.