MFL Ambulance Service celebrates 40th anniversary

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Members of the MFL Ambulance Service include (left to right) Rachael Fritz, Becky Harnack, Eric Van Horn, Cynthia Torkelson, Melanie Cahoon, Karla Schrader, Scott Torkelson, Nick Torkelson, Mary Bissell, Brian Berger, Josh Kluth, Jenny Torkelson, Billie Jones, Jim Schellhorn and Clare Benzing. Not pictured are Preston Landt, Jill Miller, Carla Pester, Wendy Gress-Yearous, Scott Henkes, Jamie Schlee, Andrew Willie, Todd Balekos, John Elledge, Andy Meyer, Jamie Welsh, Jeremy Schellhorn, Chris Hoffert, Arlen Quandahl, Jane Quandahl and Garrett Palas. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

MFL Ambulance Service’s first new ambulance, a van, as well as its first modular-type vehicle, are shown here. (Photo from Monona centennial history book)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

A lot has changed in the 40 years since the MFL Ambulance Service began aiding the Monona-, Farmersburg- and Luana-area communities: Equipment has become more automated, ambulances more technologically advanced. EMT certification is more extensive.

However, one thing has always remained the same: The service is still comprised of hard-working, dedicated volunteers who are happy to help their fellow citizens. 

“Forty years is a big milestone,” remarked Mary Bissell, an EMT and the service’s current crew chief. “The fact that we’re still staffed by all volunteers is even cooler yet. It’s something bigger than yourself.”

MFL Ambulance Service Inc., was formed in September 1977, with its boundaries covering the same 145-mile area as the MFL School District. 

It’s first members, according to Monona’s centennial history book, included Gene Nevermann, Fred Heins, Dick Huinker and John Smola, who had taken the EMT class in 1975. 

“Their course consisted of 75 hours of classroom work, six hours of hospital work and five ambulance emergency runs,” according to the book. “Classroom work included anatomy and physiology, medical treatment for most known or common emergency situations, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and extrication from wrecked vehicles. The 13-week written course culminated with a written test for the National Registry of EMT-A and a three-hour practical test of factual emergency situations commonly found in rural Iowa.”

The men worked first with Schultz Ambulance Service. The service later utilized Schultz’s 1967 station wagon as an ambulance.

After fundraising efforts, a new ambulance was purchased in 1978, for nearly $16,000. 

“It was just a regular old van,” Bissell said. “There wasn’t a hell of a lot in there. There was no defibrillator or automated blood pressure cuffs. Everything was manual.”

At the time, however, the ambulance met all federal specifications for sustaining life in transit. “It had piped in oxygen and suction units, several types of splints, a poison kit, obstetrical kit and other features,” noted the Monona history book. A two-way radio system allowed ambulance operators to speak directly to hospital emergency rooms.

Another fund drive was held in 1984, through which the service’s first modular-type ambulance was purchased. Another ambulance came along in 1992.

MFL Ambulance Service’s two current vehicles were purchased in 1999 and 2014, Bissell said.

“At this point, we have state-of-the-art equipment,” said EMT Carla Pester. “We’re not lacking anything. We’re always able to supply both units in order to provide care.”

The service also has a good home. The building it shares with the Monona Volunteer Fire Department was constructed in 2001, and provides ample meeting and supply space, Bissell shared.

The service’s first executive board contained seven members, which is still the case today. Those early members included Nevermann, Smola, Ramona Krambeer, Bill Tielbar, Karen Bossard,  Ron Gordon and Jerry Schroeder, who still sits on the board.

“We try to have someone from each of the three communities represented on the board,” Pester said.

The MFL Ambulance Service, Pester explained, is a non-profit, relying on the money it collects for providing service, as well as donations, memorials, township funds and grants, to operate and purchase equipment.

“We’re not part of the city,” she said. “We’re not owned by anyone.”

After 40 years, Pester said the most important thing is that the service is still able to get a responding unit together when an ambulance is requested.

For the past few years, the service has averaged 235 calls per year, said Bissell, and looks to be at that amount again this year. 

In comparison, 1990 saw just 100 calls for service.

“It takes a driver and at least two attendants in the back end to go out on a call,” Bissell said. “Depending on the situation, it could take three or four in the back end.” 

As a result, more volunteers, especially those willing to become EMTs, are always needed.

“The biggest struggle—and we’re not alone—is getting volunteers to service [the ambulance], to certify,” Pester said. 

It’s a big commitment, requiring 130 classroom hours, 40 hours of ER time and 24 hours of ride time with an ambulance service, along with classroom and practical tests.

That’s a significant increase from the 1970s, said Pester. Then, she noted, “Certifications were very—not easy to obtain—but you didn’t have to have near the skills. Now, you have to have very complex skills.”

Helping the community is worth it, though, said both Bissell and Pester, who’ve served over 20 years apiece. Karla Schrader and Jim Schellhorn have been volunteers for over 30 years. Todd Balekos, the longest-serving member, has been part of MFL Ambulance Service since 1978, first as an EMT and now a driver.

“For most people, it’s that sense of doing something to help in your community,” Pester shared. “There have been a lot of really great people on the ambulance service.”

Bissell also credited community members for their support.

“We’re volunteers. We leave our jobs and families,” she said. “It takes a lot more people in the community than just the few on the service. If you don’t have employers willing to step forward and allow staff to leave at the sound of a pager, you don’t have a service. If any of those things breaks down, you don’t have a service.”

The MFL Ambulance Service would like to show its appreciation for the communities, and also celebrate its 40th anniversary, with a free spaghetti supper on Saturday, Sept. 23. The event will be held at the Monona Community Center from 4 to 7 p.m.

If you’re interested in volunteering, please contact Bissell at (563) 880-1020.

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