Commissioners strike a deal for new EMS home

Marion County Commissioners seem to have struck a $175,000 deal with Galen Unruh, owner of Auto House on Commercial Drive, during its April 24 meeting.

The purchase means Marion County EMS will soon have a new home once Su­san Robson, county counselor, and Unruh further negotiate the final contract terms.

But ever since mid-December, it’s been an uphill battle for EMS director Ed Debesis who settled for a temporary location in part of the Main Street building next to the Marion Police Department at 112 Fifth St.

Pressure to find a more suitable facility for quicker response time, housing EMS personnel and ambulances mounted after Debesis announced there would be a total of six full-time medical techs at the first of the year.

Those hired included a full-time paramedic, one full-time EMT-A and two full-time EMTs bringing the department up to six full-time people.

By mid-February, Debesis was continuing to ask for better housing even if that might mean building a new station.

In addition, he reported the Tampa ambulance had a circuit board which controls the emergency lights needed replacing.

“The manufacturer of the circuit board is no longer in business,” he said, “and if it can’t be replaced, we might need to consider replacing that ambulance.”

But a replacement unit was found and the commission directed Debesis to move forward with the repairs.

When asked to provide a replacement schedule for future ambulance planning purposes, Debesis said he prefers doing three year leases on a rotating basis.

“I would also encourage (commissioners) to visit the current temporary lodging in Marion,” Debesis said in February.

When the commissioners met in mid-March, Hillsboro Mayor Delores Dalke was present to discuss the shortage of Hillsboro crews.

Debesis also discussed mechanical problems with many of the ambulances.

The rear-end of the Marion unit was making noise and it was taken in for evaluation. The Florence unit had major vibrations, which Debesis thought could be the universal joint.

Other tire/balancing issues have been address on other units and the backup unit was placed into service in each community while the main ambulances for that area were being repaired.

The vehicle Debesis uses was experiencing transmission problems, but he noted it is still under warranty.

As a way to resolve the shortage of EMTs and/or paramedics in Hillsboro, the commissioners agreed that four more full-time personnel could be hired in 2017, but housing was still a concern in both Marion and Hillsboro.

Dalke said the city of Hillsboro is ready to assist with housing and meals if the county commits to hiring full-time crew members.

“We can offer an apartment in the basement of the clinic that is connected to the old hospital,” she said.

In addition, crew members could be provided three free meals per day at the Salem Home cafeteria.

And, if another apartment was necessary, she said the city could make that possible.

“The ambulance service is extremely important to the city, and they will do whatever it takes to support the county if they will commit to providing a full-time crew,” she told commissioner on March 13.

During that meeting, Debesis along with getting approval to hire personnel for Hillsboro, again reminded the board that the housing situation in Marion needs to be addressed.

As Debesis was continuing to move forward on equipment, personnel and attention to housing, he was stalled with the onset of gall bladder surgery.

When the Auto House building came up for sale, Unruh talked to the commission about his facility, and both Dalle and Commissioner Kent Becker agreed it was in a good location, had room for the ambulances on site and would require some modifications, but was basically a “turnkey building.”

Becker said it was a viable option and Commissioner Dianne Novak agreed the Auto House building, while “a very nice building,” wasn’t sure what was happening with the Straub facility.

Debesis said: “As EMS director I need to look at what is best for the communities. (The Auto House building) offers quick response time which is what we are looking for.

“Everything is housed in the same place. We turn light and sirens on and we are out and moving.”

The new facility has an office area, two bays for ambulances, an upstairs break room, and the capability of having three to four bedrooms with some modifications, Debesis said.

After touring the building on April 24, all three commissioners were impressed with the building.

Robson is expected to return with a proposal from Unruh in a couple of weeks.

Unruh said he is willing to help however he can.