First responders attend MOAD meeting, discuss sheriff’s DWI blood draw, 911 Dispatch issues

By Laura Schiermeier, Staff Writer
Posted 6/22/22

VIENNA — More chairs were brought in from the back at the beginning of the Maries-Osage Ambulance District (MOAD) June Board meeting last week at the Vienna Base. First responders from the …

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First responders attend MOAD meeting, discuss sheriff’s DWI blood draw, 911 Dispatch issues

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VIENNA — More chairs were brought in from the back at the beginning of the Maries-Osage Ambulance District (MOAD) June Board meeting last week at the Vienna Base. First responders from the Vienna community came to the meeting to together talk about different issues.

There were representatives from MOAD, the Maries County Sheriff’s Office, Vienna Police Department, and Vienna Volunteer Fire Department. 

The first issue discussed was about MOAD not wanting to do blood draws for DWI and DUI persons for the sheriff’s office. MOAD Administrator Carla Butler said they have had issues in the past with the blood draws and they think its best to put all of their sides out on the table, talk about it, and clear it up. 

She knows the sheriff’s staff is upset about MOAD’s decision to cease doing the blood draws, but the ambulance district has its reasons for it. First, is that paramedics are not trained to do blood draws. They are not in the scope of a paramedic’s practice. Second, is the district has been advised by its EMS attorney Frank Foster to not do blood draws because it puts the board members and MOAD staff in a liability risk. 

Sheriff’s Deputy Lt. Mark Morgan responded that other ambulance districts in the area do blood draws for their local sheriff’s office. Butler said, “That is on them,” and that doing the blood draws puts MOAD in jeopardy as the inmates can come after district personnel with their lawsuits. Morgan said if a paramedic can start an IV, why can’t they draw blood? Butler said that is a push in whereas the blood draw is pulling out. Morgan showed her a paper with MO Revised Statute information that said persons doing blood draws are not liable. MOAD Board member Laura Stratman said the paper is just one section of RSMO.

Morgan said he understands the physical liability, but Phelps Health Hospital is not in Maries County and “I can’t take a Maries County search warrant and execute it in Phelps County.” The Highway Patrol can because it has jurisdiction in both counties. 

Butler said the sheriff’s office brings people from Belle to Vienna and wants MOAD to do the blood draws. Morgan said it is a long process. The sheriff’s office would prefer to do a breath test, not a blood test. If the person refuses a breath test, they have to get a search warrant and it all takes time to do as they have to get the prosecutor and the judge involved. Butler asked why they bring the Belle people to Vienna for MOAD to do. Morgan said it is a logistical issue and it saved time because they have a restraint chair in the sheriff’s office whereas in Belle they have to hold people down to do the blood draw. It’s for security reasons. 

Butler said when Brian Opoka was the administrator, they were under the impression the sheriff’s office was going to have a staff member trained to become a phlebotomist, a person who draws blood. But because of liability issues they did not. She said it is the same with MOAD with the liability as they don’t want the responsibility of it. Plus the district’s paramedics do not want to do the blood draws. 

MOAD Paramedic Bruce Grotewiel said a blood draw is putting a needle into a vein, drawing the blood out and into a hub and is not part of a paramedic’s training. It is a lab technician’s work. “We start fluids. We start IV’s. I’ve never been trained to vein puncture, and draw blood into a tube. IV’s are totally different,” Grotewiel said.

Butler said, “It’s not that we don’t want to, but it puts us in a liability issue.”

Morgan said he’s talked to paramedics who have a different view. Grotewiel said he has drawn blood before, about once or twice in years of work and one of them was here. He said what got him was the sheriff staff said it was part of his job to do it. It was inferred he was not doing his job. “I’m here two days a week and after that it is rare for a medic to be here,” Grotewiel said. 

Morgan said he realizes this and if there is a basic life support (BLS) on staff at MOAD, “I don’t even start it. I won’t call if a paramedic is not on.” He said they do maybe one a month and most of the time it’s a breath test. With the rise in recreational marijuana use, they know there will be more incidents of people driving high and the only way to get this information is with a blood test. Morgan said the sheriff’s office insurance is not for medical professionals and coverage is a problem. He added the office would like to have a phlebotomist. 

MOAD board member Victor Stratman said it is in everybody’s interest to get high people off of the road. Morgan brought in a blood draw kit the sheriff’s office uses. It did not contain a needle. He said the sheriff’s office is open to suggestions and ideas and they want to find a solution.

Laura Stratman said the most logical solution is to have a member of the sheriff’s staff trained. She added they say MOAD is not liable, “But that doesn’t keep someone from suing you.” 

MOAD’s staff member Francy Runge said it takes about six months of training to become a phlebotomist. MOAD board member Eileen Smith said they need to research the issue. Laura Stratman said MOAD would need to train more than one person because their people aren’t here all the time. “I don’t know what the answer is,” she said. 

Grotewiel said the insurance company has questions about it. He added MOAD is the first place he’s ever seen ambulance people doing blood draws for law enforcement and he’s worked for a lot of ambulance services in his career as a paramedic. Laura Stratman said the problem is that MOAD’s area is more remote with no hospital close by. Morgan said some sheriff’s offices use ambulance districts for blood draws. Phelps County goes to the hospital “but we don’t have that resource.” Runge said the Phelps County ambulance crew is not allowed to do blood draws. Victor Stratman asked about the Osage Ambulance and was told they do the blood draws. 

MOAD Board President Don Lanning said they will do some research about this. Smith said they need to all continue to work together.

Morgan brought up the Sunshine requests Butler said were submitted and he asked for details. She said it was in September 2021 and it was faxed to dispatch when she needed record of an audio recording to fill out a form. The sheriff’s office had 72 hours to get the information MOAD needed but did not. Of three Sunshine requests she made, the sheriff’s office only responded to one of them.  There is a communication problem and she asked Morgan whom they should contact to get a response. He asked her to call him and he will respond. 

Vienna Fire Chief Mike Smith had questions about dispatch times and addressing. He said he knows there are times when there is a lot going on in dispatch. Other departments request Vienna Fire and it’s five minutes before they get paged. It’s a concern to him. The fire department is graded on its response times by ISO, the governing agency, and it affects insurance rates for homes. Smith said he knows dispatch can be hectic, but they need a correct address. The firemen are using phones now and use Google maps.

Vienna Police Chief Shannon Thompson said addresses with three and four digits are in town, and those with five digits are out of town. 

Dispatch Supervisor Corporal Liz Schrimpf said in dispatch they plug in an address and pull up a separate page to find it. If the system does not recognize it, they use maps. In August they will have the new CAD system and 911 tied in. It is in the building process now and once finished it will be tied together as one. She said what they are doing now is different and the system is outdated. They had some more discussion about dispatching. Morgan said there will be bugs to work out and it always takes time with new dispatch staff to get to a level of experience. Grotewiel said they need to know if it is a mutual aid call because they are all short of help. Lanning said it is the same with the fire department as they are responding and ask if they need to continue. Smith said it also is important to clarify what they want—a tanker, a brush truck, and how much personnel. 

Thompson said they put a lot of responsibility on sheriff’s office with dispatch. Stratman, who also is Maries County Presiding Commission, said there is always somebody in jail so the sheriff’s office has to have someone there. In the past there was talk of a separate 911 board, but then they would need two people working at all times. They would need people to serve on that board. It is hard to get both of these. 

Butler said one person there “is dangerous” as they have a lot of lives in their hands. She thinks something needs to be done about it. Thompson said he arrests a person and takes them to the sheriff’s office and it becomes that office’s responsibility. Runge said as an ambulance staffer it is frustrating when she was on a call on Highway 63 with cars driving by fast and being told by dispatch they are busy with an inmate. She had a safety issue. 

Smith asked about a 911 tax. Vic Stratman said they ran it before as a surcharge on cell phones but it didn’t pass. They researched it and Maries County doesn’t qualify as it’s for counties with populations from 15,000 to 20,000. Maries County has a little over 8,000 people and can’t use that statute. Thompson said the City of Vienna did a public safety sales tax but it took State Rep. Hurst to get legislation passed to do it. 

Victor Stratman thanked the first responders for coming to the meeting so they can get it all out in the open. They talked about forming a first responder committee to help deal with issues they have in common. 

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