Ken Barkley

Mat-Su Borough Emergency Services Director Ken Barkley.

PALMER — The passage of the Mat-Su Borough Assembly’s ordinance 19-021 is providing better emergency medical coverage to the Mat-Su Borough already.

The borough has nearly completed hiring an additional 25 full-time Emergency Medical Services responders. The addition of the 25 new hires allows EMS to staff two additional full-time ambulances that are ready to respond around the clock.

“We know it will improve service by some measurable amount,” said MSB EMS Deputy Director Gary Klink.

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The rate of calls has doubled since 2010. Currently, ambulances respond to 26 calls per day on average. The previous four ambulances were stationed in Palmer, Wasilla, and two near Meadow Lakes. One of the additional ambulances will be stationed in Talkeetna permanently, cutting down on response times for emergencies.

“The difference with augmenting all of our areas with paid on call folks is it’s going to provide a much better service to the community around the clock,” said EMS Director Ken Barkley.

Mat-Su Borough Mayor Vern Halter asked the new EMS staff in attendance to lead the pledge, a gesture often reserved for a sitting assembly member. EMS has seen a high turnover rate in the past with part-time staff working many EMS positions. Borough Manager John Moosey estimated that the additional two ambulances would cut the response time in half. Instead of part-time staff traveling to the station before responding to an emergency, the full-time staff will be able to respond immediately. The MSB EMS is the only entity in the state that uses the Resuscitation Quality Improvement Program.

“Our ROSC [Return to Spontaneous Circulation] rates have improved significantly since adopting the RQI system, and we are working to quantify those numbers in a meaningful way,” Klink said.

Klink said the calculation of the impact of RQI is complicated and does not lend itself to comparison against other organizations, but MSB EMS is also the only pre-hospital care in the United States currently active in this system. Most of the new full-time hires were previously in part-time positions. Many of the new hires responded to the assembly meeting for introduction and applause. Franklin Sousa and Kyle Blake are now serving as full-time firefighter driver operators. Brandon Gensel was promoted to fire captain with Central Mat-Su Fire after nine years of part-time service. Josh Kahler was promoted to training captain for Central Fire, which has the largest roster of fire service areas in the borough and conducts a massive amount of fire training. Michael Keenan was promoted to fire chief of Central Mat-Su Fire. Keenan’s resume spans over 30 years when he began as a volunteer firefighter for Wasilla Lakes FD. Victor Snell was promoted to chief of Willow and Caswell Fire.

“This is one of the most important things we have done,” Moosey said. “It allowed us to hire up to 25 full time, fully trained, experienced folks to help our citizens in case of emergency.”

Kaleb Self has been an on-call responder for nine years and recently finished his paramedic internship in Colorado. Andrea Pultz is a Mat-Su College grad joining MSB EMS in a full-time role, and Kyle Hettrick was also hired as an EMT 2 after serving with Life Med and the U.S. Army. Faith McKenzie, Jessica Dean, Joe Balnius and Owen Loscar were also hired as EMT 2’s. Lindsey Shelley, who works in recruitment and retention for MSB EMS, told a harrowing story of Bayli Jenski’s decision to join MSB EMS.

“She went to get her EMT license, she told us this in the interview, after she helped a stranded winter motorist she was a good samaritan and stopped to help her and actually pulled her own bunny boots out of her car and gave them to the lady because she wasn’t wearing any shoes,” Shelley said of Jenski. “We’re very happy to have people like this with us now.”

Contact Frontiersman reporter Tim Rockey at tim.rockey@frontiersman.com.

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