By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — If you listen to the Dunn County emergency services scanner for any length of time, you will hear them: calls for ambulance crews or firefighters for a “lift assist” to help someone who has slipped on the ice or has fallen at home.
The lift assist requests are often for people who weigh as much as 500 pounds and cannot get up by themselves.
Lift assists come across the scanner for all three rescue squads in Dunn County: Colfax, Boyceville and Menomonie, and if they do not occur on daily basis, then at least perhaps several times a week.
Don Knutson, director of the Colfax Rescue Squad, worries about his EMTs in those situations.
Knutson asked for, and received, authorization from the Colfax Village Board at the December 8 meeting to buy two portable devices at a total cost of $7,000, one for each ambulance, to help with lift assists.
During one recent lift assist call, it took five EMTs to help one 500 pound person to get to his feet, Knutson said.
The Colfax Rescue Squad’s 2014 budget has left over funds that can be used for purchasing the ProLift XL units, he said.
The portable lift assist devices were not available on the market at the time the 2014 budget was approved, he said.
“We have a few fluffier individuals who have fallen, and I am afraid some of my EMTs are going to injure their backs trying to lift them up,” Knutson said.
Several village trustees who are relatively new to the village board wondered what Knutson meant by “fluffier individuals.”
“Fluffy” has always been Knutson’s way of describing people who are carrying more weight.
The lift assist devices do not require EMTs to do any lifting and have a harness that can lift people to standing or to chair height, Knutson said.
The lift assist devices can be used for space issues in the village’s manholes, too, he said.
During the recent incident with the 500 pound individual, “with this device, we could have done it with our ambulance crew (instead of calling for backup),” Knutson said.
One worker’s compensation claim would probably cost more than the lift assist devices, said Scott Gunnufson, village president.
But Gunnufson also asked about the necessity of purchasing two lift assist devices.
“I am a firm believer in Murphy’s Law. If the device is in one ambulance, I will be in the other one when I need it,” Knutson said, adding that he was requesting two of the devices because the company is giving $500 off per device for a total savings of $1,000.
The lift assist devices cost nearly $4,000 each.
“There are none of these in our ambulance district. The only way we can get someone up is the strong-arm method,” Knutson said.
“Once you hurt your back, it’s kind of a lifetime thing,” said Beverly Schauer, village trustee.
Mark Halpin, village trustee and chair of the public safety committee, said he had watched the video demonstrating how the device operates.
“Some of the EMTs are young men, but we also have some petite young ladies. A back injury vs. this. It really seems to make sense in the long run,” he said, adding that in the video, the individual had fallen, and because of his size, was unable to turn over and maneuver onto his knees to get up.
Halpin also noted that he had planned to call a public safety committee meeting to discuss the lift assist devices and to make a recommendation to the village board but that the schedules of committee members prevented holding a meeting.
Since the rescue squad has money remaining in the budget and there are no other lift assist devices around in the area, Gunnufson said he would be in favor of approving the purchase.
Village Trustee Cary Davis wondered if the rescue squad knows ahead of time when they are called out that a lift assist will be required.
Sometimes the EMTs know when they leave the ambulance station, but “sometimes we get on scene, and — oh, boy. We don’t always know the size of a patient,” Knutson said.
The device will lift 500 pounds by itself, and the device weighs 26 pounds, he noted.
Several village board members questioned again whether two of the devices were necessary.
At times, the Colfax Rescue Squad will be on the way back to Colfax from Eau Claire and will be called out before the ambulance gets back to Colfax, Knutson said.
In that situation, if the ambulance that is out happens to be the ambulance without the lift assist device, and if that next call is for a lift assist, the ambulance crew would have to come back to Colfax to get the device before responding to the call, Knutson said.
If it ended up being a situation where the crew did not know until they were on scene that they needed the lift assist device, they would also have to go back to Colfax for it if it was not already in the ambulance, he said.
If the Colfax Rescue Squad has two lift assist devices, one for each ambulance, the lift assists will be available whenever they are needed, Knutson said.
Rand Bates, director of public works, said he had watched the video demonstrating the lift assist device and that it had not taken the person in the video more than two minutes to lift a very large person.
The Colfax Village Board approved a motion to authorize Knutson to purchase two of the portable ProLift LX units at a cost of $7,000.
Davis voted “no” on the motion.
In other business, the Colfax Village Board:
• Approved a training request for Tammy Sauer for the Wisconsin EMS Association conference January 28 through January 31, 2015, in Milwaukee.
• Approved a training request from Dustin Toellner and Stephanie Riether for Advanced EMT class from January to May of 2015 in Chetek.
• Postponed until the next village board meeting in January the agenda item for design of the Third Avenue Street project. Lisa Fleming, an engineer for Ayres Associates, had planned to be at the December 9 meeting but ultimately was absent from the meeting.
• Approved resolution 2014-19 for authorization of signatures for deposits and withdrawals for village accounts at Bremer Bank to add Lynn Niggemann, administrator-clerk-treasurer.
• Approved resolutions 2014-20 through 2014-27 for authorization of signatures for deposits and withdrawals for village accounts at Dairy State Bank to add Lynn Niggemann, administrator-clerk-treasurer. Dairy State requires a resolution for every village account while Bremer Bank only requires one resolution to cover all accounts, Niggemann said.