Law Enforcement, Fire and Rescue Fill Ambulance Void in Worth County

Updated: 07/15/2014 10:54 PM
Created: 07/15/2014 10:49 PM
By: John Doetkott

(ABC 6 News) -- A new study on ambulance service in Iowa shows many counties have very few paramedic teams available to help during emergencies.

But that doesn't mean people are being left unprotected.

There is no ambulance service in Worth County, which sits along the Minnesota border and includes the community of Northwood. And while it may sound alarming that there isn’t a single ambulance stationed within county lines, they’re not alone.

According to an analysis from The Des Moines Register, Worth is just one of 29 Iowa counties that have no ambulances, or only one capable of 24-hour service.

Those counties are home to nearly 427,000 people, and experts said part of the problem is that there is no requirement for counties to provide an ambulance service.

In Worth County, cities contract with neighboring towns outside the county to provide service, but until they can reach an emergency situation, it's up to other first responders to help.

"Law enforcement and fire and rescue go to the call and they tend to the person as best they can until the ambulance service gets there,” said Worth County Sheriff Jay Langenbau. “Sometimes it could be five minutes, it could be 20 minutes."

Sheriff Langenbau said every town in the county has a fire and rescue department, and local first responders have come up with ways to improve service while they wait for ambulances to arrive.

"We have people that are able to give oxygen and we have AEDs in all the squad cars for one thing, we also have a few of the rescue services that do have some EMTs available,” Sheriff Langenbau said. “So it's not that we don't have quality rescue personnel in the county, it's just that we just don't have the transporting units yet."

Between nearby ambulances, medical helicopter services from Mason City and Rochester, and advanced training for local first responders, authorities said they're confident residents are well protected.

"I believe we are very prepared,” Sheriff Langenbau said. “When somebody calls for help, they don't care what you look like or what service you're there for, you're there to help."

Worth County officials said they've considered adding an ambulance service but have to think about the cost and efficiency of such a program.