In October 2008, Seneca County EMS Director Ken Majors introduced the Echo unit, a paramedic responder unit, to the county. Now celebrating its fifth-year anniversary, the Echo unit continues to provide aid to local volunteer fire departments and to Seneca County EMS at emergency calls.
Staffed by 16 part-time paramedics, the Echo unit responds to daytime calls seven days a week in Seneca County, helping fill in the gaps of understaffed volunteer departments.
Majors said volunteer departments are especially hard-pressed to find help during daytime hours.
PHOTO BY ERIKA PLATT-HANDRU
Majors (left) and Echo unit paramedic Jan Samoriski stand behind the county’s Echo unit.
"It eases the burden on volunteers," Majors said. "They know they have someone with experience coming their way and they know they'll be there in minutes."
Majors said volunteers at first were a little reluctant of the idea, but now they appreciate the extra help. It's also added to their comfort and confidence levels, he said.
"They don't have to ask for it, it's coming. It's part of our automatic response," Majors said.
The Echo unit, which is centrally housed at the public safety building at the Seneca County Fairgrounds, responds to each call but can be told by the responding volunteer department to either continue to the scene or to return to its station. If there are two calls at once, the paramedic makes the decision on which call may need the most assistance.
Major said many times, the unit will be on its way to a call when the responding squad says it doesn't have any trouble and it doesn't need the Echo unit to respond. In that case, the paramedic returns to the station and waits for the next call.
It's not just waiting game, though.
Majors said the paramedics are kept busy during their shifts. They restock medical supplies and also go out and help volunteer departments with their tasks.
"Most of them are eager. You don't have to tell them what to do," he said.
Jan Samoriski, who serves as an Echo unit paramedic, described the job as challenging yet rewarding. He said it calls for a lot of experience, training and judgment.
"There's a lot more going on. This is a more challenging job," he said.
Samoriski has been a paramedic for 20 years and started running with the Echo unit in 2011. He also serves as a paramedic for Bascom EMS and teaches at Tiffin University.
"Everybody's part-time, and they all are involved with EMS locally," Samoriski said of the Echo unit paramedics.
Samoriski said experience isn't the only essential attribute of an Echo unit paramedic; they must also have knowledge of the county and be able to work with people.
"We go on everything, you never know what you're going to run into," Samoriski said.
While Echo unit paramedics play an important role at many emergency calls, the most needed people at calls are the volunteers and first responders, Samoriski said. Echo unit paramedics serve as a resource for first responders, making the first responders the ones in control of each emergency scene.
"I have great appreciation for first responders because I've been one," he said. "On the scene, those are the people who are really valuable."
Samoriski said volunteers and basic paramedics are the backbone of Seneca County's EMS system, and, without them, the system would not exist.
"The work they do is critical," he said. "Those people out there, they deserve a tremendous amount of credit for what happens."
Majors said finding volunteers to staff the county's ambulances has been an uphill battle since the introduction of county EMS in 1978. He said with the addition of the Echo unit, it has only served as a Band-Aid on a bullet hole. Because of few volunteers, many squads do not have the staff to be in service during daytime hours.
"The problem is still underlying," he said. "We're still there as far as not having enough volunteers. It's the same problem we had 35 years ago of finding more people willing to be selfless and give to their community."
Since the original Seneca County EMS agreement in 1978, the county has provided ambulances and the commodities to go with them, while the seven townships have been expected to house the ambulances and provide people to operate them.
The operators of the ambulances have proven to be the most important and a rare commodity.
"The key to success in Seneca county EMS is people," Majors said. "And we need more people."
Bascom Fire Chief Harry Miller said volunteers are hard to come by, but in Bascom, paying the EMTs a nominal fee has helped. The money to pay the EMTs is generated through Bascom's ambulance district, which is a separate entity from the fire department.
"The way it is right now, there are a couple of county squads out of service because they don't have the manpower to run them," he said.
Miller said Bascom puts in a lot of hours to keep their squad in service.
Seneca County EMS has 130 volunteers on roster, Majors said, but the ideal number would be around 210. Majors has been actively recruiting volunteers, and 16 are enrolled now in school to become volunteers with Seneca County EMS.
In recognition of those 130 volunteers serving the county, Majors is organizing recognition programs to take place in each township for its volunteers. Each volunteer will receive Seneca County EMS coins made of recycled brass along with an accommodation letter.
It's the first time Seneca County EMS has had recognition programs since 1978, Majors said.
"It's important to recognize the ones we have because the fact that numbers are dwindling, we're asking more of them every day," he said. "If we can't continually supply people, we're no longer going to be a program. Echo can't do it alone, volunteers is what this whole thing is built on."