PEA RIDGE -- During the 11-month period from Sept. 1, 2020, to July 13, 2021, 96.5% of the 12-hour shifts for the Pea Ridge Ambulance Service had a paramedic on duty, according to records provided to the Arkansas Department of Health by Pea Ridge Fire-EMS officials.
The letter, written by Jared Powell, interim fire chief and EMS director, which includes schedules, time sheets for Jack Wassman, former fire chief and paramedic, and time clock records for four paramedics, was in response to a letter dated July 7 from Helen Huitt, regulatory administrator with the State Department of Health.
Powell said: "During 22 instances identified ... only 13 calls for service were required to be answered pursuant to Pea Ridge's mutual aid agreements. No calls went unanswered."
Huitt's letter says a complaint was received stating:
"This is to inform you that there have been issues with the staffing of the ALS ambulance at Pea Ridge fire department. In the last 10 month there has been approximately 29 instances of 12 Hrs. or more with no ALS coverage. Department personnel have voiced there concerns to the fire department and city administration with no action taken. Numerous times EMTs have been left without a medic and have been told to just request the next closest ambulance to respond. My self and some of the other EMTs have staffed the BLS truck just to try and provide some level of care to the Citizens of Pea Ridge and the out of city area of the Pea Ridge ambulance service. We have asked if they cannot staff the ALS truck to make an attempt to at least staff the BLS truck. All of our request have fallen on deaf ears. The events on 6/26/2021 the line of duty death of Officer Kevin Apple the Pea Ridge ALS ambulance was not staffed. There was nothing that anyone could have done to save him. However, if there would have been a chance to save his life he would have been denied ALS care that should have been there for him or any other person in this coverage area. The complacent disregard for the level of service promised to the citizens of their coverage area is unacceptable."
During the time period in question, Pea Ridge Ambulance responded to 488 EMS calls within its corporate boundaries and in mutual aid to NEBCO, Avoca, Little Flock, Rogers, Bentonville, Benton County and McDonald County, Mo., Powell wrote.
Huitt's letter does not identify the complainant.
Jason Bowman, an emergency medical technician with the department who was on duty on June 26 when Pea Ridge Police Officer Kevin Apple was killed in the line of duty, said he contacted the Arkansas Department of Health stating that the Pea Ridge advanced life support ambulance is not adequately staffed. He also wrote on social media that he has been very concerned with the staffing issues and said there were "numerous days Pea Ridge has not had an Advanced Life Support (ALS) Ambulance ... a lot of times leaving just an EMT at the station alone."
Bowman, whose teenage son was at the station with him while he was on duty, responded to the scene with his son. Bowman said he sent his son back to the station to get a sheet to cover Apple's body and said his son assisted him in getting police personnel to the fire station for privacy after the event.
Powell's July 14 response provided work schedule assignments for EMS providers from September 2020 to the present. He wrote that the work schedules do not provide the complete picture of paramedic coverage and time clock records were included as "there are occasions when paramedics agree to cover open shifts after the schedules are published."
"The previously published work schedules are not always updated retroactively (within the time limits permitted by the scheduling software) to reflect the additional personnel," according to Powell, who wrote "we constantly work to fill any paramedic openings in the schedule."
Powell said no calls for service went unanswered. He said there were 22 occasions in which Pea Ridge was out of service for 12 hours or more and relied on mutual aid agreements. He wrote "on these 22 occasions, mutual aid responded to 13 EMS calls."
"Pea Ridge works diligently to fill its paramedic schedules. On the rare occasion when there is a gap, Pea Ridge relies on its mutual aid agreements via the NWA METRO Chiefs Association to ensure no call for service goes unanswered," Powell stated in the response.
Powell enumerated responses to 31 allegations of the station not being staffed with eight termed "not accurate" as there was a paramedic on duty. There were three dates the ALS ambulance was out of service and the basic life support (BLS) ambulance was staffed with two EMTs.
The other instances included either no calls (nine dates) or calls answered by mutual aid including Northeast Benton County Fire-EMS Department and Bella Vista Fire-EMS. Of those calls, there were 12 times mutual aid agencies responded. Of those, two were cancelled en route; five included responses but no transport; and five responses included patient transported.
Responding to a specific question, Powell said the ambulance was out of service on June 26, 2021, due to the "inability to find a paramedic to cover the schedule as required for staffing." He said Benton County Central Communications was notified when the ambulance was out of service.
Powell noted that the citizens of Pea Ridge and many communities nearby rely on the Pea Ridge Fire Department and its ALS ambulance for critical response to medical emergencies.
"Pea Ridge is experiencing explosive population growth and is transitioning from a volunteer to full-time combination department," Powell wrote. He said three full-time paramedic positions have been approved and two candidates have been identified for hire. He wrote "Hiring is on hold pending the outcome of this complaint."
Powell said the City Council is calling for a special election for a 1% city sales tax, revenues of which would be allocated to fire/EMS, police, parks and streets.
"The administration, elected officials and citizens of Pea Ridge have been extremely supportive of the progress and growth of the Pea Ridge Fire Department and Ambulance Service," Powell concluded.
Annette Beard can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.