Forest EMS Authority was recently created to help ensure the return of Basic Life Support (BLS) ambulance service to that side of the county and northern Clarion County.
The Forest County Commissioners secured grant money to help pay for a pair of ambulances – one to serve the western side of the county through the Tionesta Ambulance Service and one to serve the eastern side of the county through the Forest EMS Authority.
“We haven’t had dedicated service on the Marienville side of the county since 2018,” Jenks Township Supervisor Ed Stoner, who is also a member of the Forest EMS Authority, told yourdailylocal.com.
Dedicated service to both eastern Forest County and northern Clarion County was previously provided by Clarion Hospital with ambulances at different points housed in both Leeper in northern Clarion County and Marienville, which is part of Jenks Township, in Forest County.
But, according to Forest County Commissioner Bob Snyder, the hospital deemed it too expensive to continue operating ambulances out of those locations and consolidated service to its base at Clarion Hospital located in Monroe Township just south of Clarion Borough. That means that residents in eastern Forest County are currently experiencing wait times of anywhere between 45 minutes and two hours for an ambulance.
That wait time has become a concern of many in the community, including Stoner and Snyder, thus the creation of the Forest EMS Authority.
“Forward progress is continuing to be made to provide surround townships with ambulance service,” a release from Jenks Township Supervisor Ed Stoner said. “Current township supervisors from Farmington (in Clarion County), Jenks, Howe, Green, and Barnett (in Forest County) are the fundamental leaders for the Forest EMS Authority,” a Facebook post from Stoner said.
Stoner told yourdailylocal.com the idea for the EMS Authority came after a number of people were getting together to try to troubleshoot the problem.
“It started with myself as chairman, Joe Calla as co-chairman, and Pat Kline as second treasurer,” Stoner said. “We formed a board with the three of us and decided to form the authority. Bobby Snyder has been there all along for advice and guidance, and each township involved has a current supervisor on the board.”
Current plans are to house an ambulance in Leeper in Clarion County next to the Farmington Township VFD.
“We are looking to provide basic coverage Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” Stoner said. “That way, at least we get something. That is when the highest call volume used to be. If we can get to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. that would be great. But right now, we have no coverage so we are looking to get basic coverage and expand on that accordingly”
In the interview with yourdailylocal.com, Stoner said Leeper was chosen as the location to house the ambulance because there are minimal renovation needs to the ambulance building there plus it put the ambulance in a centralized location to serve the area.
The Forest County Commissioners were able to secure a 50-50 matching grant through the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) to purchase two ambulances. One will be stationed in Tionesta and be run by a reorganized Tionesta Ambulance Service, which now includes a board of directors that has supervisors from the townships in that area according to Snyder, and the other by the Forest EMS Authority.
“We bought two ambulances,” Snyder said. “One for Tionesta and one for Marienville. The one in Tionesta will go into service, hopefully, next week. We were just working on the title for that one.”
The two ambulances combined cost $469,578.92 with the USDA grant covering 46.7% of the cost or $219,300 and Forest County covering the rest The 50-50 match ended up being slightly less because of increased costs of the ambulances after the grant was awarded, Snyder said.
According to Snyder, Jenks Township provided $10,200 in funding for a diesel motor for the ambulance that is coming to the eastern side of the county.
“That way, they can provide fuel for it through their pumps,” Snyder said.
While the ambulance on the western side of the county should be active soon, there is no firm date for the ambulance on the eastern side of the county to be put in service both Stoner and Synder said.
“We don’t have a date set yet, but hopefully as soon as possible,” Stoner said. “We have to wait for the delivery of the ambulance and work out details like licensing, etc.”
The Forest EMS Authority also needs to hire Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and Emergency Vehicle Operators before the service can become active. These will be paid positions, according to Stoner.
“That way we know we have 100% converge,” Stoner said.
The recently closed Shippenville Ambulance Service in central Clarion County has provided the Forest EMS Authority with some equipment, which will save the Forest EMS Authority “tens of thousands” of dollars according to Stoner.
“Shippenville Ambulance donated a lot of their equipment to us,” Stoner said. “That was made possible by (Jenks Township Supervisor) Greg Geyer who had a pre-existing relationship with the folks in Shippenville and Commissioner Bob Snyder. Steve and Chris Merryman from Shippenville Ambulance deserve a big thank you.”
According to Snyder, Shippenville donated about $80,000 worth of equipment including a Stryker Cot (stretcher), an AutoPulse machine (automatic CPR machine), a monitoring device, and a stair adapter machine for the cots.
“It’s very nice stuff,” Snyder said. “Steve Merryman is a very good man.”
Stoner said the Forest EMS Authority is still looking into the best model for funding the ambulance long-term.
“We aren’t 100% sure how we are going to pay for it,” Stoner said. “Right now, each participating township contributed some start-up money. We know there is going to be a shortfall. How will we make that up? There a lot of numbers to run yet.”
Stoner said there are ongoing discussions about what the best option(s) to fund the service moving forward should be.
“We are discussing whether to sell memberships,” Stoner said. “We are talking to several different ambulance companies to discuss our options from across the state. We will gladly take donations.”
Stoner said the EMS Authority has not approached either Pennsylvania State Representatives Kathy Rapp (Forest County) or Donna Oberlander (Clarion County) or Pennsylvania State Senator Scott Hutchinson about possible funding opportunities at the state level.
“We are working on getting the formalities ironed out,” Stoner said. “We are doing this very expeditiously. That (reaching out to the state legislators) is going to be one of our next steps. We want to pursue them and see if there might be more grant money. But before we do that, we want to be definitely established and have our ducks in a row and approach people with certainty and clarity. We want people to see that we are taking it seriously. People are very willing to contribute when you show you are serious.”
According to Stoner, the response to the EMS Authority has been very positive.
“We held our first meeting in Marienville (April 28), and a handful of the community members came out,” Stoner said. “People are happy to see we are making progress toward it. One lady said, ‘No more unicorns and rainbow, Ed?’ And I said ‘Nope, this is going to happen.’ We are moving forward with commitments. When we say we are providing service, we are providing service.”
Stoner said while the EMS Authority has received commitments from the five above-mentioned municipalities, it doesn’t mean it couldn’t expand into other townships and communities.
“We can expand on the five participating townships,” Stoner said. “Others can come aboard if they contribute accordingly. We are not excluding anyone.”
The Forest EMS Authority will hold another meeting in Marienville Friday, May 5. The business portion of the meeting, which is open to the public, will start at 4:30 p.m. at the Jenks Township Municipal Building and there will be a public forum from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
A meeting will then be held in Farmington Township in Clarion County at 5:30 p.m. on May 19.