Town Crier News Staff
Monette council members declared a financial emergency and voted to discontinue the Buffalo Island Emergency Medical Service and sell to Emerson Ambulance Service, in Jonesboro, during a special session Thursday evening.
The Buffalo Island EMS (Rescue 36) board of directors and representatives from the cities of Monette, Black Oak and Leachville were on hand to discuss the planned merger with Emerson.
Rescue 36 board president Bob Blankenship expressed his sadness at discontinuing the service, but explained the reasons for the decision.
"The board took the position two years ago to hang on as long as we could," Blankenship said. "We have been struggling, depending on funding from our auction, dinners, gifts and memorials. We were having trouble getting back money from billing efforts. In November 2006 we were as low as we have ever been, and the city jumped in and helped bail us out. In January 2007 we were worse again. Our auction, barbecue and donations allowed up to operate a while longer.
"Last week we were the closest we have ever come to being broke. January was our last chance to make it work, and it hadn't. Our board met and agreed to recommend that Emerson in Jonesboro take over our service, so our people would not be left without service. We have worked well with Emerson for years, and anticipate a smooth transition."
"We were happy where we were at and not looking to expand," Emerson owner Toby Emerson said. "We were not looking for Rescue 36 to go out, as it has a long tradition here.
"We have been in business for 75 years. In 1973 we saw funeral homes in Craighead County go out of the ambulance business, and we picked it up. Our main priority has be first and foremost taking care of the patient.
"We plan to leave the Rescue 36 unit here in Monette and change the name of the service to Buffalo Island Emerson. We will honor calls to Leachville as their main service provider and carry on the tradition Monette has had to answer the call."
"Monette has had a fine voluntary ambulance service, as has Caraway," Emerson Manager E.F. Goodrum said. "I have not talked to Caraway Mayor Barry Riley yet, and am in no way looking to take them over. We are not looking for a huge service area, but will take good care of the area we have.
"We will depend highly on First Responders and firemen, who have worked well with Monette in the past. We are sad you have come to this point, as we too have suffered through billing and funding problems through the years. We understand all too well what you have gone through.
"You have a need over here and I have been overwhelmed at the reception we have received. We feel good about this area. We want to involve everyone. I want to encourage the board to stay together and five us some good input."
Several other volunteers spoke of the closeness of Rescue 36 personnel and volunteers and of their commitment to stay involved.
"We do not own the ambulance service, we just support it," Monette Mayor Chub Qualls said. "We have sought the counsel of our attorney Johnny Dunigan, as to the sale of the service."
Dunigan addressed the council and audience.
"If it is an emergency situation, the city can sell the business without competitive bidding," Dunigan said. "You will have to have a 2/3 vote to vote on who provides service to the area. You have expressed to me it is not a matter of price for you, or who is cheaper, but rather who can take care of the patients. You can legally offer Emerson your franchise if you wish. You will need to have a periodic review ever so often, with a criteria set by the council. Selecting an ambulance service is like selecting doctors, with lots of variables in place."
The council voted unanimously to declare Buffalo Island EMS a professional service, to declare it an emergency, to pick a provider, and to have a periodic review of service, with details set by the council.
The Monette council agreed to form an Ambulance Committee to oversee transaction and set review outline and timetable. A recommendation was made to use the current board to serve on the new Ambulance Committee, along with Mayor Qualls. Former Buffalo Island EMS board members include Blankenship, Larry Drummond, Bob Hurst, Moba Lee Miller and Randy Jackson.
Black Oak Mayor Norman Williams was in attendance along with Leachville Police Chief Bryan Crites. Leachville Mayor Sheila Spurlock was unable to attend.
Another meeting will be called for committee members and Emerson Ambulance personnel to work out details of sale, and details of review and timetable.
From left: Black Oak Mayor Norman Williams, Buffalo Island EMS president Bob Blankenship, Monette Mayor Chub Qualls, Emerson Ambulance Service owner, Toby Emerson, Emerson manager E.F. Goodrum, and Leachville Police Chief Bryan Crites. (Town Crier photo/Nan Snider)