Exeter ambulance considers Woodlake station

City, Fire District present Exeter District Ambulance with agreements for a full-time ambulance in Woodlake

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

EXETER – Exeter District Ambulance may be expanding services into Woodlake.

That’s a phrase that has rolled around Woodlake for more than a decade but after a recent meeting of the Exeter District Ambulance (EDA) board of directors, it appears the plan is closer than it ever has been to becoming a reality.

At its Oct. 29 meeting, district manager Peter Sodhy presented the board with the draft of a memorandum of understanding between the City of Woodlake, Woodlake Fire District, and EDA to provide ambulance services to the community. Sodhy also presented a draft lease agreement from the Woodlake Fire District for a future ambulance station at 120 N. Mangolia St., between the fire station and the museum behind Miller Brown Park. The building was formerly a Zumba dance studio and fitness center business. The five-year lease sets a monthly rental fee of $1,000 per month for the first two years and then an increase of $50 per month per year for the remaining three years of the lease. The lease includes a contingency for EDA crews to share the Fire Station barrack while the building is being rehabilitated. EDA would pay a flat rate of $750 per month, including utilities and Internet, to share the fire station.

“Woodlake and the surrounding area is growing and this could be seen an investment, for the ambulance and the community,” Sodhy said. “Woodlake is definitely in Exeter’s service area.”

Sodhy said the board of directors did not vote on the items and that the discussions between the three entities were still preliminary. The MOU with the city and lease with the fire district were on the agenda for the Nov. 12 meeting, which happened after press time, under “unfinished business” but no vote on the issue is expected. It marks the first time in the last 10 years that the Board has actually been presented with official documents to begin providing ambulance service to Woodlake.

“The subject of helping the Woodlake area has come up many times but it has never been a formal approach,” Sodhy said. “It feels as if this time it is a serious consideration and there are many positives for [EDA] and Woodlake.”

Sodhy said the advantages for the district would be having a full-time unit posted in Woodlake that would be able to respond to calls to Ivanhoe and eastern Visalia. If the board were to move forward, Sodhy said EDA would probably begin with a 12-hour daytime shift in Woodlake to test out the response times, calls and collections from Woodlake. Longterm, the goal would be to have a full-time ambulance posting in Woodlake.

“The call volume for us should go up but it will probably only be a marginal improvement financially,” Sodhy said. In other words, more calls will translate into more money but probably not any additional money over expenses. “Starting out with a full time car may cost more than we can afford until the payments begin coming in regularly.”

EDA currently operates three ambulance each day. One rig posts 24 hours per day in Exeter, another splits time between Exeter and Farmersville and the third rig spends half the week in Lemon Cove, splitting the week with American Ambulance of Visalia, and the other half in Lindsay, where it splits time with Imperial Ambulance of Porterville. Now that all of EDA’s ambulances have been repaired, Sodhy said a fourth ambulance is available for posting in Woodlake if the board moves forward.

EDA may also be getting closer to bringing ambulance service to Three Rivers as well. Sodhy, who is a Three Rivers resident, said he is working on a plan to employ several paid call EMTs, EMTs who are only paid for the calls they respond to, to operate an ambulance in Three Rivers. Eventually, Sodhy said he would like for those resident EMTs to become paramedics. In addition to six quasi-surgical procedures such as transtracheal jet ventilation (inserting a needle in the neck to open an airway) and decompression of a collapsed lung, paramedics can also use five more medications such as dopamine, which keeps blood pressure low in heart attack victims until they can get to an emergency room than EMTs.

Sodhy said he has approached several community groups about finding resident EMTs willing to become paramedics and finding ways to sponsor the cost of the additional 800 hours of training. The plan could cut Three Rivers response time in half, as EDA currently responds to those calls from the fire station in Lemon Cove. The community used to be served by Three Rivers Ambulance, an all-volunteer ambulance company, that was forced to fold in 2010, in part because it was unable to find any resident paramedics. Sodhy said Central California Emergency Management Services Agency (CCEMSA), which oversees ambulance companies in Tulare, Kings, Fresno and Madera counties, has tentatively given the plan its blessing to move forward.

“This plan is further down the road but there is at least progress,” Sodhy said.

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