CARTERVILLE - Williamson County Commissioner Brent Gentry stood before the Carterville City Council on Tuesday night to question the practices of the city's ambulance service.
The issue that Gentry addressed stemmed from a medical crisis experienced on April 23 by former Williamson County State's Attorney Chuck Garnati. Two EMTs arrived in a fire truck and informed Garnati and those present that the ambulance was in West Frankfort on a mutual aid call.
About 20 minutes later, an ambulance from Herrin arrived and took Garnati to the hospital.
While the details of the incident were not disclosed, Gentry became emotional when he told the council that Garnati lost about six pints of blood, and was told by the hospital that it had been a "matter of hours."
An adult human has eight pints of blood in his body.
When he was told that one ambulance was on another call and the city's second ambulance was out of the county, Gentry started looking for answers. He contacted Mayor Bradley Robinson and Fire Chief Ron Rains, both of whom said that they would look into the issue. Rains did not get back to Gentry until Tuesday.
"It doesn't matter if it's my friend. It doesn't matter if it's me. It doesn't matter if it's one of your family. It's the principle," Gentry said. "Is it going to take a death to do something right?"
Pointing out that he wasn't angry, just questioning, Gentry asked the council about the city's reciprocity services, and how the city decides when an ambulance is sent out to another county or city.
Many cities and counties in Southern Illinois engage in a mutual aid box alarm program (MABAS), where aid will come for issues like structure fires or massive emergencies.
A problem that Gentry pointed out is that the program requires the chief and an ambulance to go to the area in need when the call comes out, leaving the host city lacking.
The issue, as Gentry put it, was that the taxpayers of Carterville and Williamson County don't pay taxes to other counties and other cities. According to their website, West Frankfort has 10 full-time firemen, five on-call firefighters, and three ambulances of their own.
"What troubles me is sitting idle in another county that we pay absolutely no taxes to. It makes absolutely no sense," Gentry said. "I don't pay taxes for those counties, I pay taxes for right here in Williamson County.
"Right is right, and wrong is wrong."
All Gentry wanted, he said, was written confirmation from Robinson that something would change - a request directly from Garnati, who Robinson personally visited after the incident and said that he would make it right.
When he was done speaking before the council, nobody on the council asked any follow-up questions or made any comments. Just before the council moved onto another subject, Gentry asked the mayor if he would be able to get any answers.
Robinson told Gentry that the city's policy is that if a call for mutual aid comes, and an ambulance is in town and staffed, the other ambulance can go and help.
"We never go outside of our jurisdiction unless we have an ambulance in town and staffed, and that's what happened that day," Robinson said. Gentry pointed out that the call for West Frankfort and the second call left the city unprepared for the possibility (and eventual reality of) a third call.
"We had one sitting 18 miles away, idle," Gentry said. "Do we pay Franklin County taxes? Or Saline?"
After examining the details from April 23, Robinson informed Gentry that the city altered the box alarm responses to remove the ambulances from box alarms. Now, Robinson said, a Carterville ambulance will only leave the city/corporate limits when a call specifically comes in for an ambulance.
Rains told Gentry that he would discuss the process of mutual aid with Gentry in more detail after the meeting.