‘We’re always there’

Grassroots effort under way to get EMS recognized as an ‘Essential Service’



“Police, fire, EMS: we’re always there.”

Two of those three emergency services, fire and law enforcement, are designated “essential services” under the Iowa Code. Marshall County Emergency Medical Services Association President Steve Vannatta wants to see emergency medical services (EMS) recognized as well.

“[EMS] should be something that is along the same lines as law enforcement and fire,” he said. “You call 911, we’re going to come and help, we’re going to assist you with whatever your needs are.”

Vannatta said the topic of designating EMS as an essential service has come up before in the state legislature, but so far, no such recognition has been made.

“In the past, it’s been the legislation out of Des Moines that has made that designation, but it can be something as simple as a designation made at the local level,” he said, using Wright County’s decision in August to make EMS an Essential Service as an example. “It should be turned into a grassroots effort; the volunteer services are really starting to hurt.”

There are benefits that come with the official label, Vannatta said. One such benefit would be more lines of funding, especially for volunteer EMS divisions.

“You’re looking at a base of about 12,500 … certified EMS providers in the state,” he said “Almost 80 percent of them are volunteers themselves, they have jobs that they have to do, they have families that they need to be able to take care of.”

Despite Marshall County “sitting pretty good” when it comes to emergency services, Vannatta said the statewide number of volunteers is dropping.

Initial training for volunteer EMTs, he said, can be $1,000-$1,500 for four months of classes, and many must buy their own uniform and pay continuing education costs. He said that’s a lot of investment for a volunteer who won’t make the money back in their EMS work.

Marshalltown Deputy Fire Chief Chris Cross said he supports EMS getting the designation.

“It should be recognized at the state level as an Essential Service with the same magnitude as fire and police are,” he said.

At the Marshalltown Fire Department, all firefighters are also certified emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and can provide some EMS services. While they can’t transport victims, they are able to give basic emergency medical treatment in a first responder role.

“We’re really fortunate here in the city that we have two services that are staffed and readily available,” Cross said, referring to the fire department and services from UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown.

The former volunteer firefighter said it’s difficult when departments and services must rely on fundraisers for things like equipment costs.

Vannatta said the essential service designation would help take care of those who dedicate their time to saving lives.

Cross said the designation could lead to better funding for EMS, which in turn could help those who require emergency services.

“I think that’s what we’re all after, is making sure the systems are in place to take care of folks when they need it,” he said.

“There are a lot of dedicated people that do this job day in and day out, and we need to be able to take care of them,” Vannatta said. “I think it’s fair and honest to say that everybody realizes that we need EMS, we need the ambulance services, it’s a vital component of our infrastructures.”


Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com