Woodlake gets first ambulance

Exeter District Ambulance to operate full-time ambulance station in city as early as next month

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

WOODLAKE – For the first time in the city’s history, Woodlake will have an ambulance station.

On Dec. 18, the board of directors for the Woodlake Fire District unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with the City of Woodlake and the Exeter District Ambulance to provide ambulance service in Woodlake. Fire Chief Anthony Perez said his firefighters, like all first responders, are prepared to provide basic life support, such as CPR, but not advance life support, which includes the use of needles and other devices to penetrate the skin or to open airways. Advance life support is handled by paramedics, which can administer more medications than an EMT, such as dopamine, which keeps blood pressure low in heart attack victims until they can get to an emergency room than EMTs, 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.

“On average we can respond to calls within three to five minutes,” Fire Chief Anthony Perez said. “That means an ambulance leaving from our location would be cutting its response time in about half. That’s a big positive for our community.”

The Woodlake Fire District was the last of the three entities to approve the MOU. Exeter District Ambulance’s (EDA) board unanimously approved the document at its Nov. 12 meeting and the Woodlake City Council unanimously approved it on Dec. 10.

“The city has wanted this for a while and having an ambulance here is very important to residents,” Lara said.
The agreement was equally crucial for EDA. In exchange for ambulance service, the City agrees to work with the public ambulance company to look into the potential annexation of the Woodlake city limits into the boundaries of the Exeter District Ambulance. This would add additional property tax revenue to the tax-funded ambulance district, which falls under the guidelines of a hospital district. Woodlake is not currently covered by a hospital district, leaving the door open to make Woodlake a permanent part of the ambulance district’s boundaries.

“That was an important part of the agreement,” Lara said. “The MOU allows us to look into that.”

The fire district board also approved leasing an auxiliary building to Exeter District Ambulance to use as an ambulance post. Approved by the Exeter District Ambulance board at its Nov. 26 meeting, the lease is for a building located at 120 N. Magnolia St. between the fire station and the museum behind Miller Brown Park. The monthly fee would be $750 per month for the first two years and then increase $50 per month per year for the remaining three years of the five-year lease.

The 1,320 square foot building is currently occupied by Ballet Folklórico del Lago, whose lease will end on June 30, 2019. WFD has already agreed to invest up to $30,000 to make improvements to the building, such as adding a small kitchen, creating a bedroom and a living room area for crews to stay while they are on-call.
Until the dance company’s lease is up, the agreement offers to rent a portion of the fire station, 216 N. Naranjo Blvd., to the ambulance district for a flat rate of $375 per month, including utilities and Internet. WFD also reduced this rental rate from the original $500 per month.

“We are ready for them,” Chief Perez said.

While all parties have approved the MOU, ambulance district manager Peter Sodhy says Woodlake may have to wait a little bit longer, but that might be good thing. When he presented the MOU to the Tulare County Ambulance Providers Association, representing the seven ambulance companies covering Tulare County, Sodhy said the other six providers approved but agreed that EDA should begin operating 24 hours per day in Woodlake instead of the 12-hour shift proposed. The full-time ambulance in Woodlake would also mean better ambulance response times to Ivanhoe and eastern Visalia.

“It’s all very exciting for us and for Woodlake because this is further than we have ever been into this process,” Sodhy said.

Sodhy said the change means the MOU must be re-drafted and re-approved by all three parties. Sodhy said he is optimistic that could happen by the end of January. After the three entities have approved the MOU, Sodhy said it will still need the blessing of the Central California Emergency Management Services Agency (CCEMSA), which oversees ambulance companies in Tulare, Kings, Fresno and Madera counties. He said work has already begun to coordinate a new rotation with American Ambulance in Visalia to cover the post in Lemon Cove, which provides coverage to Three Rivers.

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.

Sodhy is also working on a plan to create a post of resident paramedics in Three Rivers to better serve the community he calls home. His interim plan is to create a situation for the community to be able to attract EMTs willing to become paramedics and who would relocate to the foothill community. Long term, Sodhy said he hopes to set up a system to recruit and retain resident paramedics.

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