LAUREL – Residents in attendance Tuesday at the Laurel City Council meeting clapped after testimony of poor ambulance service.
The problems, which several residents said have long been a concern in town, range from significantly delayed response times to dispatchers informing callers that no ambulance personnel are available.
“Laurel has a crisis with it’s ambulance service. This is nothing new,” said one man. “The city and ambulance director have been aware of this for years. People in this community have lost their lives due to the inability to respond. The city needs to be held responsible for the crisis. The blame starts at the top.”
Jason Summers said friends of his family needing an ambulance could not receive one at 5 a.m., and a friend suffered oxygen deprivation. Summers pointed to another man who did not receive medical attention for 30 minutes at the Fraternal Order of Eagles.
“Whatever we got to do, I don’t know the answers,” Summers said. “We got to start doing something.”
Those who provided testimony said it was not a volunteer issue and commended the work of responders, but said the lack of pay does not provide a living wage.
“You can’t expect these people, with as big of hearts as they have, they have to live,” said another woman. “They’re giving their time, they’re giving their energy, they’re paying for their own schooling, but you have to pay them. You have to reward them.”
Several council members thanked people who spoke for their comments and promised to find solutions.
Councilmember Bruce McGee suggested residents attend the emergency services committee meeting every fourth Monday of the month.
He went on to scold taxpayers for overwhelmingly rejecting a public safety mill levy in 2015 that would have helped fund police, fire and ambulance.
“It would have been interesting to know if we would have heard what we heard tonight had the public safety [levy] issue had passed instead of failed,” McGee said, glancing at those in attendance. “This discussion might not have even taken place.”
McGee blasted the comment that the mayor and City Council are “at the top,” calling it wrong and saying “above the City Council are the citizens of this community.”
“The citizens of this community decide where these funds come from and where those funds are spent in order to provide the services this community needs. I think we need to get the order right,” he said.
Newly appointed Mayor Tom Nelson thanked those in attendance for their testimony and assured them the city will fix the issue.
“We are going to address this and take care of it once and for all,” Nelson said. “Obviously there is no reason why a city this size can’t do that.”
Nelson said he likes the model in Columbus. Stillwater County voted in favor of creating an ambulance service district tax in May 2017.
Reporting by Dustin Klemann for MTN News