(Jan Glassow, facing center, read her statement to the commission this morning. Ed Kuhlman and Mike Cunningham who spoke later are seen in the audience chairs. Joshua Scheer photo.)
(Lander, Wyo.) – A former Dubois area volunteer Emergency Medical Technician and several others met this afternoon with the Fremont County Commission and heavily criticized the leadership of Fremont County’s Emergency Medical Services, operators of the county ambulance system.
Jan Glassow, Ed Kuhlman and Deb Scheler brought numerous allegations of mismanagement and abuse against Ambulance Director Lauri Wempen and Dubois EMS Supervisor Todd Smith. Mike Cunningham of the Fremont County Racing Association also raised concerns he has with the Ambulance’s leadership.
Glassow spoke primarily to Dubois-specific problems, but she said that all EMTs require a nurturing environment to help them through the job where lives are constantly on the line. She accused Wempen of grabbing an EMT’s head during training once when the EMT wasn’t paying attention. She called Wempen “confrontational” and alleged that Wempen slapped a book out of her hand once. She said the volunteers are made to feel worthless, are “screamed at” and that Smith and Wempen “lead by fear and intimidation.” “They were just plain mean to us,” she said.
She called for the commission to “review the current leadership” and “carefully refill” the positions.
Scheler, a former Fremont County EMT, said she was “railroaded out of a job.” She reminded the commission that she spoke with them about similar problems a year and a half ago and said that nothing was ever done. “I never heard a word back,” she said.
Scheler said that the management is driving away “good, intelligent, hard-working, very knowledgeable” people from the department.
“There’s no where else for us to work,” she said. “Where do we go if we can’t go to Lauri and Todd.” Scheler later added, “I would give anything to go back to being an EMT.” However she said she the high turnover for EMTs is because they are “beat to death, belittled and treated like crap.”
“You all got the balls this time to step up?” Scheler asked the commission.
Glassow spoke to the challenges Dubois faces with being a rural community with about 200 EMS calls a year to the area, including Crowheart. She said the community was relying on the volunteer EMTs who have since been run off.
“We just don’t want anything bad to happen to our family, neighbors and complete strangers,” she said.
Glassow said there aren’t enough willing volunteers or employees to staff both ambulances. This becomes problematic when one ambulance is on standby for an event and emergency services are needed elsewhere.
She noted a shortage of working pagers, a “pattern in losing sensitive paperwork,” and 800 miles of gas on a personal vehicle never reimbursed to one volunteer. She recounted being told by Smith that if she wasn’t wearing a specific type of shoe when responding to a call that she was not allowed to touch a patient. Glassow said Smith “flat out told us to let them die.”
“Law enforcement has told me that they wonder if it’s safe for them to work up there any more,” Glassow said, later adding, “The elderly are starting to wonder if it’s safe to retire up there.” She also said that at times when EMS is short-staffed, law enforcement is asked drive the ambulance, which takes them away from being able to respond to other calls.
Glassow suggested having an independent audit done of past EMTs, more engagement with grade schools and closer relationships with fire departments.
She added that she has a couple petitions circulating and that after a couple days there were 129 signatures. She did not say the nature of the petitions.
Commission Chairman Doug Thompson, noting that the majority of what was being talked about relates to personnel matters, he said the commission would not respond to the accusations at this time nor did he invite any of the attending EMS staff, including Wempen, to comment. He told Glassow, who called for exit interviews, that the county does not require exit interviews but they are done at the employee’s request.
Dubois Search & Rescue Communications Officer Kuhlman noted communications issues. He said his agency has not been given permission to broadcast on EMS channels and that it has impacted cases where S&R is aiding EMS. He added the EMS personnel don’t listen to the tactical channel that S&R is allowed on.
Cunningham said in the past he’s had trouble getting commitment from the Ambulance department to provide an ambulance for stand by at the racing association’s motocross events north of Riverton. He said the association is required to have one on standby. On Sunday, he said the EMT crew had to transport a racer to the hospital with one hour left in the event and never returned. He had to cancel the rest of the races and said he had an “angry crowd” to deal with. “I had a lot of upset people.” He blamed management for the crew not returning, not the EMTs themselves.
He said he thinks he’s worked out future events with management so that an ambulance will be on scene the whole time. However, Cunningham was afraid attendance could be hurt at future events after he had cancel the end of Sunday’s.
Commissioner Stephanie Kessler asked Glassow what she thought of Wempen’s proposal to hire more, increase wages and effectively double the budget of the Ambulance department to $4 million. Glassow said she thought it was good idea but couldn’t imagine where Fremont County would find more EMTs.
The commission later in the afternoon met in a lengthy executive session to discuss personnel and litigation. It is unclear if ambulance staff concerns were discussed.