Dysart ambulance service works to solve volunteer shortage

posted on Monday, July 23, 2018 in  College News

As seen throughout the state of Iowa, especially in rural towns, ambulance services are struggling to maintain volunteers to drive and provide care for their communities. While no exact statistics are available to back this up, residents of Dysart need only look at their own ambulance service, which has seen its numbers dwindle down to two full-time employees and a handful of volunteers.

"Having so few volunteers causes those in the service a lot of stress," Mary Wankowicz, a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for 18 years with Dysart Ambulance Service said. "When I know Julie [Scadden] and Billie are gone and it's a bad week for me, it worries me to think who will be there to take care of our community if there's a need. With people growing older and retiring, we worry who will take over."

The service continues to have a need in Dysart, as the closest ambulance service in Traer also is in need of volunteers for their services. If there's any indication how vital it is to have a first responder in town, just ask another volunteer, Jackie Obrosk, who has been driving for the Dysart Ambulance Service for four years.

"In 2013, my husband had a stroke and if it wasn't for the ambulance service here he might not have made it," Obrosk said. "This is my way of giving back with a little driving when I can. People spend a lot of time on Facebook or doing nothing when they could have a pager and be ready. When we need someone, we need someone. We hope if it's your family member, someone is here to help."

Scadden recently took over the ambulance service after Steve Weekley retired, coming to Dysart with years of experience and a teaching background. From day one, she has worked to attract more volunteers with a simple solution: bring the necessary training to Dysart. Teaming up with Hawkeye Community College, Scadden will be able to offer EMT classes in town.

"Starting in August, we will be offering an EMT class as long as we can get 10 people to sign up per Hawkeye's requirements," Scadden said. "It teaches basic anatomy, physiology, how to treat specific injuries/illnesses and gives parameters as to what an EMT can and cannot do. If someone is suffering from a respiratory issue, what would you do?"

In a town of approximately 1,200 residents, Scadden feels it's important to be able to offer classes in the very community they will practice them in and keep familiar faces on the department.

"The city is making a really strong commitment to getting more certified volunteers," Scadden said. "I feel people don't volunteer because of the discomfort believing they can't do this job. They believe there will be blood, gore and vomit when that's only a small part of what we see. A lot of what we do is take care of the elderly from the nursing home when they need to be taken to the hospital."

According to both Obrosk and Wankowicz, in a combined 20+ years of experience they have rarely encountered anything harsher than a bloody nose. While neither dismisses the fact that a major accident could happen at any time, each feels comfortable being able to discuss anything bothering them with their fellow volunteers.

"Off the top of my head, I can only remember one time in the four years I've been here that it's been graphic," Obrosk said. "Usually it's someone that's sick and needs to go to the hospital. Once in a while you get something that creeps you out, but we have a good support system here if we need it. That really helps after a bad incident."

There are three positions the Dysart Ambulance Service needs to fill as they struggle to cover hours. Transportation Specialists, like Obrosk, drive the ambulance and assist the volunteer crew as needed. A valid driver's license and CPR certification are all that are required, and CPR training is provided for those who need it. Next are Certified Providers, which include EMTs, Advanced EMTs and Paramedics. Attendants interested in assisting with patient care while they take a class may also be involved as volunteers.

"We have very limited people right now and we don't want to lose our service," Wankowicz said. "For every small community, it's getting tougher and tougher. I would encourage anyone to give their time when they can. Like Jackie, maybe they are encouraged to go on as an EMT."

The course through Hawkeye costs $1,700, but if volunteers in Dysart commit to a minimum of a year of service after certification, the City of Dysart will pay for the class.

"It's a time commitment, so younger couples need flexibility and believe two, four, or six hours isn't enough," Scabben said. "Two, four, six hours they cover are hours someone else doesn't have to cover, and it helps."

To learn more about opportunities with the Dysart Ambulance Service, contact Julie Scadden at 319-476-4911.

By CJ Eilers, The Dysart Reporter


  1. Emergency Medical Services
  2. Paramedic
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