MOUNDRIDGE — The Moundridge Emergency Medical Services department is responsible for people scattered over 165 square miles — and providing mutual aid for neighboring departments in McPherson, Hesston and Inman — with just two ambulances and 20 volunteers.

"We kind of have a big area, but my goal is to provide the same care here that you would get anywhere else," said Moundridge EMS Director Brian Falco.

Falco made some changes to the department since starting as the director in October 2017 — most notably changing the pay rate for volunteers.

"We're paying an hourly wage now, which has kind of attracted some more people," Falco said.

Depending on their certification level, Moundridge EMS volunteers earn at least $7.25 per hour while on duty. They sign up for shifts, which can be as short as two hours long, to work around their other commitments.

"I do have a lot of support, but people have lives," Falco said.

The volunteers must be in Moundridge during their shift, and a bunk room is provided for the 25 percent of staff who live outside the city.

"I have limited resources. I do well to staff one truck," Falco said.

Falco is the only full-time employee and teaches as many classes at the station as he can, bringing in other instructors as well to make sure everyone is on the same page.

"Bringing the education to people instead of sending people to the education is more efficient," Falco said. "I've brought the education here so we're not spending that money on education, I'm supplying it."

Moundridge EMS handled 330 calls in 2017, which was an increase of 15 calls from the previous year. Keeping the station staffed 24/7 and trying not to rely on outside assistance is a priority for Falco.

"It's not fair to have somebody wait while we get an ambulance from McPherson or Hesston or something like that," Falco said. "They deserve the same care as everybody else, and that really is my drive. Just because we're in small-town America doesn't mean your heart attack is any less significant."

Making sure the ambulances are outfitted with updated equipment is another goal for the department. Having gear similar to what is found in larger cities makes it easier for volunteers to transfer in and out as needed — and provides better resources for the patients Moundridge EMS serves.

"We need to provide the good stuff, but we've got to figure out the funding to do that," Falco said. "It's always a challenge."

The Moundridge City Council recently approved $67,000 for new monitors to replace aging equipment, Falco noted.

"The council has been extremely kind to my requests," Falco said. "I've had nothing but support in this city to get things kind of progressing."

Falco said he would like to add people to the EMS department, provided that they are wiling to work to contribute to the community.

"Here's the double-edged sword to this — I don't just need people, I need good people. I need people who will be compassionate, have a little bit of education and are willing to learn," Falco said.

Finding funding for payroll, everyday equipment — much of which includes single-use items like IVs— fleet maintenance and replacements for outdated medical technology is challenging, but worth it.

"That's really our push, to provide the best patient care we can," Falco said.

Contact Patricia Middleton by email at pmiddleton@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.