The city of Kamiah is looking to rebuild its ambulance unit after the mayor accepted the resignation of 15 EMTs during a special council meeting/workshop last week.
The EMTs contend that the city has mistakenly considered their Nov. 25 ultimatum letter demanding changes to the department as a resignation. They have been claiming on social media and through other news agencies they were fired.
Fifteen of Kamiah’s 24 EMTs signed and submitted a letter to city officials and The Clearwater Progress Nov. 25 stating five conditions that must be met by Dec. 2 or they would remove themselves from service.
Included in the demands were a change in the command structure to place the unit directly under the mayor and having a separate unit apart from the fire department.
The letter concludes, “Realizing that all shifts filled by the Kamiah EMTs are voluntary, if the stipulations above are not addressed, the undersigned EMTs will remove themselves from the schedule for the Kamiah Ambulance until such time as they are resolved. We sincerely hope that this step does not become necessary, but are fully purposed to do so.”
After opening the workshop meeting at the Emergency Service Building, the council went into executive session next door at City Hall with city attorney Dan Chadwick, Fire Chief Dan Musgrave and EMS Lead Andrea Layne. The purpose for the change of venue was so that the public would not have to leave the building and because Councilor Glenn Hibbs, who is recovering from a medical condition and wheelchair bound, would be moved as little as possible.
Following a 30-minute executive session, the council reconvened at the EMS building and Heater addressed the audience.
“I have tried to help this situation for the last 18 months that we are faced with today and I’m very let down by the actions and things that have taken place. To me when you volunteer to help your community, that’s what you are supposed to be.
“I didn’t have the proper representation the first while that I was mayor. I didn’t really do things right or wrong I just really didn’t know what to do but I did my best. I feel very let down to be put in this position. I feel like I’m being held hostage. I feel like this community is being held hostage and I am not happy about it.
“We can’t go back to the old way. The old way was illegal. The old way didn’t work any better than what it’s working right now.”
Heater then referenced how the volunteer EMS in the city of Moscow operates, upon which Kamiah is modeled.
She noted that volunteers donate 500 hours monthly, noting they represent true volunteers.
She also addressed the controversial Resolution 2016-1 that EMTs demanded its rescission because it places them under the authority of Fire Chief Dan Musgrave, whom they do not want as their superior.
“I just recently learned the 2016-1 resolution was not created by this council, it was not created by our fire chief, it was created because the auditor recommended that to keep us out of a whole lot of trouble and that was before my tenure. So all of the scuttlebutt on that is just not true. It had to be done. There was no ifs ands or buts about it.
“This coming from me with a very heavy heart. Very heavy. Lack of sleep, ill health, the whole nine yards. December 2 has come and gone. I will be accepting and I have accepted your letters of resignation as per the letter that was given to all of us.” Heater then asked for the EMTs to turn in their gear within 24 hours.
“What was illegal about it,” piped up EMT supporter Sandie Daeges.
Heater said it was not a public forum and that Daeges needed to be quiet or she would have to leave.
“We’re going to have to rebuild. It’s very sad for our community,” continued Heater.
“Now what are we going to do without the EMTs,” loudly interjected Daeges. She said she would leave but added, “I will continue fighting this.”
At this time, most of the EMTs exited the room, gathering outside the building’s entrance to talk.
When EMT spokesperson Kristina Seigler was later asked if she thought the EMTs were shocked about the city’s decision she replied, “Yes, the EMTs were shocked that they were terminated. They expected contact and discussion with the city council and mayor regarding the situation. I don’t think the city council or the mayor realized that these fifteen EMTs covered 93% of all shifts in November 2019.”
She also likened Resolution 2016-1 to a car buying analogy. “This is like buying a $100,000 car. The sales rep is going to point out all the features and options, tell you how sleek it is, and try to sell you his car. But, it would be wise to talk with the mechanics first; those who actually work on these cars, know all the problems, and every nut and bolt. These fifteen EMTs are the mechanics.”
When Heater was later asked why she felt forced to take such actions and felt like a hostage she said, “They left a letter of intent, or demand letter on my desk only a week or less to the deadline. The letter stated they were fully purposed to remove themselves from the schedule if their requests or demands were not met by the 2nd of December, which in the eyes of an employer is a refusal to work, therefore resigning due to differences that cannot be resolved.
“The Mayor and Council were responding to the demands of the EMTs. This was not an action anyone wanted to take, but the actions of the EMTs took the decision out of the hands of the Mayor and Council. The City Council made the decision to continue to support the City of Kamiah Emergency Medical Services and the community of Kamiah.
“I feel very much like I have been held hostage, and worse yet I felt our community is held hostage. When I received this letter, it was literally like having a gun to your head so to speak, knowing that if these demands were not going to be met, this staff (EMTs) were no longer going to care for their community, it was heartbreaking, to the point of being completely out of sorts for me, or stressed to the point of no return. Their demands cannot be met at all, therefore I had no choice but to accept their resignations, they were not fired, and it was their own actions and communications that brought us to this decision.”
Dan Chadwick and his wife Michele then provided a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation addressing the city’s options for ambulance service.
“I understand how difficult this has been for your community and what the problems have been. This is not a new dynamic in the city of Kamiah. It’s been going on for a long time. It has gone on in other communities as well. Don’t think you’re special because it’s happened here,” said Dan.
“What you get to do as a result is try to figure out a way to move forward and get the service to your citizens. We’re trying to remove the conflict. That’s the first thing we’re doing.”
He began the presentation with a quote from Wayne Dyer: Conflict cannot survive without your participation.
Dan also explained that the executive session was designed “to talk about issues that cannot be discussed openly because the state law says they cannot. It had to be done. The workshop is a public workshop, not a public hearing. There is a reason it’s not a public hearing.
“The public meeting is the public’s ticket to go in and listen to what the council has to say. It is not a public hearing. A public hearing allows for public discourse.”
“The most important thing is to make sure the citizens of Kamiah have service,” added Michele.
“We have to figure out how best to deliver that service to the citizens of Kamiah,” said Dan. “We’re going to deal with factual issues, we’re not going to deal with what has gone on in the past.”
The presentation included history of the department, formerly known as KEMRU, which was a non-profit entity incorporated in 1981. Michele noted that KEMRU’s annual reports were not consistently provided to the state in the first years but had been the last 16-18 years until being administratively dissolved in January 2016.
Due to non-reporting, the Secretary of State dissolved KEMRU, said Michele. “What Resolution 2016-1 did was it allowed the city to take in the ambulance service and make that a true city ambulance service,” added Dan. “It was intended to be a positive solution for the community because of the problems that existed back then.”
The council met with EMTs and there was a bit of a disagreement with the format but the council made the decision to go with the present format.
Michele said the resolution was crafted to keep the service as whole as possible with much the same look, but operating legally.
She added that after she spoke with the auditor it was learned that taxes were not being paid by the private corporation which put KEMRU, the EMTs, and ultimately the city at risk.
Dan noted that with the formation of the city service there are a lot of behind the scenes work that was done to make sure it was being done correctly.
“Once the city formed the ambulance service the service was bound to only the city’s jurisdiction,” Dan stated. “We’re not going to tell you to stop running outside the city limits. Go ahead and continue doing what you are doing but be aware of your legal limitations.”
Dan stressed that the city needs a MOU with Lewis, Idaho and Clearwater counties and the city of Kooskia to lawfully enter their jurisdictions.
By law, the county has the primary responsibility for delivering ambulance service, but cities can perform it if they choose.
Michele noted that under state law, the county collects 25 cents for every vehicle registration for the provision of EMS service.
“It does not appear that Kamiah is receiving those funds from the county,” said Michele.
Dan urged the city to also involve the Nez Perce Tribe in EMS conversations.
Councilor Dan Millward asked how long it took to get a volunteer up and running. If starting from scratch, Layne said a basic EMT class would entail 12 weeks or so depending on how the class is structured.
With the current lack of volunteers, City Councilor-elect Stephen Rowe asked if non-certified EMTs could work under the license or umbrella of certified EMTs.
Layne said they could help in a limited way. “They cannot provide care.” She said they could drive but it can become an issue if there are too many drivers and not enough EMTs.
Rowe felt the uncertified EMT could assist with patient care in the back of the ambulance as long as there was a certified EMT there he could work under.
“I can’t have you provide care,” she said. “If you are CPR certified I can have you do CPR. But I can’t have you starting IVs and other things.”
He said he had no problem volunteering to help.
Councilor Bob West asked if the noncertified staff would be compensated. Layne felt they should be.
“I don’t think it’s going to take much time to find folks who want to volunteer,” said Dan.
A woman at the back of the hall felt the timeframe had been greatly oversimplified, saying it was a six-month process to get a brand new person up to EMT certification.
The Chadwicks presented four options for operating an ambulance service: Private non-profit corporation unaffiliated with a government entity; city; Lewis and Idaho County; and a separate taxing district within the county under the same governing body of the county commission.
“We are not advocating for any of those options,” said Michele. “We will support and get you to where you need to be, whichever you choose to get your community back to where you want it to be.”
Heater asked how the council felt about the issue, noting she supported rebuilding the ambulance service and supporting the current staff. “I believe this community has depended on it for many years and I would hate for it to go away.”
The council was unanimous in support of moving forward with rebuilding the city service, passing a motion to said effect.
In a Monday interview, Heater was asked if the EMTs would be welcomed back if interested. She said they could re-apply, filling out the proper paperwork and going through the hiring process.
“EMS services has our complete support, they have sufficient competent staff to continue on, coverage is not in question, and they are ready and eager to move forward,” she added.
“One other thing just for the record, both EMS supervisors reached out to the EMT staff to find solutions to the differences and tried to keep this tragedy from happening and continue their commitment to the community, caring for them to the best of their ability.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think there is much more I can say to make things better, I am just continuing to keep this in my prayers, the one thing I know I can count on is God, and the faith I have in Him to see us through this very, very difficult time.”