Thanks to levy, Colo. agency restores, improves service

After being suspended last year, Penrose EMS has added staff and ambulances and has improved response times


Olivia Johnson
Daily Record

PENROSE, Colo. — In July 2021, Penrose EMS was suspended because of the lack of volunteers, increased demand and increased populations. Since that time, the Penrose community has relied heavily on the other Fremont County EMTs and paramedic sources for their emergency needs.

In response, a mill levy increase of 10 mills was presented to the community in November 2021. This was done to fund an EMS Service and augment fire protection within the district and meet the needs of these growing communities. The levy passed with the approval of 70% of the voters.

"The decision to support this mill levy is being confirmed with the positive attitude in the community," said Penrose EMS spokesperson Richard Hilderbrand. (Photo/Penrose Fire Department)

The ballot proposed to provide two ambulances — one to Florence and one to Penrose — using a mill levy increase. The mill levy increase would likely result in an average increase of $143 — or approximately $12 a month in property taxes.

"The decision to support this mill levy is being confirmed with the positive attitude in the community," said spokesperson Richard Hilderbrand.

In response to the levy, two ambulances were added to the Florence/Penrose EMS and fire district line-up. Currently, the two entities are responsible for covering 249 square miles and 10,000 residents. In addition to the two active units, there also will be two, complete backup units in case one has an accident, a flat tire or some other occurrence.

The Florence ambulance is now fully staffed and functional with six full-time employees and the Penrose ambulance is nearly there — only two open spots remain to fully staff the unit.

"It has been incredible — the people, especially, since we first started in April. I've had at least four families that have commented on our response times and it's faster. They enjoyed the fact that we were available when they needed us," said Sandy Merrill, assistant director of EMS.

Hilderbrand said response times are down because of the closer location of the respective Florence and Penrose ambulance units and 127 calls were responded to in July and 90 in August.

In addition to the renewed and re-vamped ambulance services, new equipment also has been pursued to bring both units to state-of-the-art readiness.

Both ambulances have been outfitted with power lift cots (which are capable of lowering and lifting up to 800 pounds to and from the ambulance), stair chairs (used to help people in/out of houses where stairs are an obstacle), and additional medical equipment. In addition, two new LifePak Cardiac Monitors have been ordered.

The ability to purchase the new equipment stemmed from a combination of the mill levy increase and a recent ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) grant that the district received earlier this year.

"There are some things we'd like to offer to the community, for example, we'd like to start supporting CPR training for community members," Hilderbrand said.

Hilderbrand also mentioned that it is a current hope that the Florence Pool can purchase and properly train staff on how to use an AED machine (used to help those experiencing sudden cardiac arrest).

At this time, both ambulance crews sleep in Florence at the fire station with the Penrose unit being pre-positioned within Penrose during the day. The Watchman's Quarters, the proposed sleeping quarters for the Penrose ambulance team, has yet to come to fruition but, according to Hilderbrand, is closer than ever.

"The county has been very supportive and, in fact, gave us money to buy these quarters ... around $225,000, that came out of some of the COVID money that the county had," Hilderbrand said. "I commend the county for moving quickly to approve the positioning of it."

The mill levy also lent itself to providing the funds necessary to hire three full-time firefighters to the Florence Fire Protection District.

"The big thing that that is allowing us to do is better maintain the equipment because they are available during the day," Hilderbrand said. "They can take care of small equipment and clean things up and repair and do things that we couldn't do when we were relying entirely on volunteers."

The emergency services are up and off the ground in the Florence/Penrose area and are a far cry from the sad state it was in this time last year.

"I just appreciate the county being willing to help us out, get off the ground, and be successful," Merrill said.

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(c)2022 Daily Record, Canon City, Colo

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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