What is Pocatello's ambulance district situation?

Fire chief says increasing call volumes concern for future

What is Pocatello's ambulance district situation?

POCATELLO, Idaho - With the recent controversy surrounding Idaho Falls emergency services, we're reminded of Pocatello's struggles not long ago. So how are Pocatello emergency services compared to those in Idaho Falls?

Pocatello's firefighters and ambulance crews are cross-trained, and have two reserve ambulances they can use if needed.

Pocatello Fire Chief David Gates did tell reveal a concerning scenario: If four people call in with need of advanced medical care, one of them won't get it right away.

However, it's not likely that four emergency calls will come in all at the same time, so Gates says the system is good.

The city staffs to cover 90 to 95 percent of emergency calls, because there's rarely a 100-percent emergency situation.

"The Charlotte Fire is one of those 100 percent situations," Chief Gates said. "The citizens couldn't afford to staff at that level, so at some point, we kind of take that risk-benefit, and say, 'Well, we're covering 90-95 percent of what we need.'"

But those emergency calls are coming in at an increasing rate. From 2002 to 2012, calls have gone from 4,000 per year to 6,000 per year.

Already this year, the city's three full-service ambulances have averaged about 1,000 calls each.

But what's causing the increase? Pocatello's population growth has been very minimal. One factor is an aging population – the baby boomers.

"Once you hit 65, you're three times as likely to use an ambulance as somebody younger," Gates explained. "Once you hit 75, you're four times as likely.

Gates also said a downturn in the economy may play a role in rising call volume. People are waiting longer to take care of those aches and pains, and when it becomes serious they have no choice but to call 911.

Back in 2010, Bannock County residents voted to increase the tax levy for equipment, staff and the purchase of a new ambulance.

Now, Gates says he's looking to get a new fire station in town that will be centrally located to better cover the growing number emergency calls.

With the lower Medicare and Medicaid payouts, Gates says ambulance services are funded half by fees like insurance, and half by tax revenue. That used to be 40 percent tax revenue and 60 percent insurance. 

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