County wants EMS vending machines

By David J. Coehrs -

Fulton County’s Emergency Medical Services coordinator has proposed a cost-cutting measure to dispense emergency supplies, but not all of the county’s associated personnel are on board.

At a Jan. 28 county commissioners meeting attended by area fire chiefs, Clayton O’Brien laid out a plan to purchase three vending machines customized to hold supplies used by first responders during emergency runs. He said the machines would replace supply closets at the county’s seven fire stations and EMS headquarters, where stock that includes medication can sit unused or expire.

The vending machines would be installed at the Archbold and Swanton fire stations and at the Fulton County Health Center in Wauseon, where EMS crews can travel to restock specific supplies they’ve used during emergency runs. That way, O’Brien suggested, increasingly costly emergency items or medication not as frequently used don’t accumulate in a station’s supply closet.

“It has to do with the accountability and tracking of supplies,” he said. “We have a lot of supplies sit at fire stations, and we want to get an accountability of those supplies.”

The vending machines would be filled based on supply usage. An attached 12-inch by 12-inch locker would store emergency items too large for the machine, such as oxygen bottles and equipment batteries.

“We’re trying to rotate product more, rather than it sitting on a shelf and expiring,” O’Brien said. He said agencies using the vending machines in other communities have reported a 20% reduction in supply costs.

“We can actually order and replace based on what we’re using,” O’Brien said.

The customized machines can track lot numbers and expiration dates of all items they stock, and send an email informing O’Brien when an item needs to be restocked. They also require PIN numbers for use by EMS providers, which record who requested what item.

The $47,000 price tag for three vending machines, three lockers, a cabinet, and software would be paid through Fulton County’s EMS equipment fund. O’Brien said the vending machines are the trend among EMS agencies with multiple stations and trucks.

“It’s a fiscally responsible thing for how we’re going to handle supplies in Fulton County,” O’Brien said. “The price of supplies is not going down.”

Wauseon First Assistant Fire Chief Phil Kessler said the department would like to hear more discussion before the vending machines are approved. He said until the Jan. 28 commissioners’ meeting there were few details of the plan available, and now it seems the county is moving ahead with approval too quickly.

“From the beginning there has been minimal discussion on it,” Kessler said.

He said O’Brien initially mentioned the vending machines to Wauseon fire personnel on duty during his late evening visits to the station to drop off supplies. He said formal discussions with appropriate personnel were not held.

O’Brien later mentioned the vending machines during a meeting with the county’s fire chiefs but said he didn’t yet have detailed information. “That’s the last the fire chiefs had heard of it at that point,” Kessler said.

A recent email from O’Brien’s office offered examples of how the plan would work, “but nobody’s ever asked this department what we waste each year in supplies,” Kessler said. “There was no input from the station on this. We’ve never sat down to have a meeting with Mr. O’Brien or (Fulton County Administrator) Vond Hall about this.”

He said the Wauseon Fire Department has an inventory process in place, and some alternative ideas for an upgrade that wouldn’t involve the cost of the vending machines.

“We’re all about cost savings, but first let’s sit down and have an educated discussion on this,” he said. “That approach was never taken. There’s no appropriate dialogue. The focus has been from the beginning that the county wants vending machines and that’s what they’re going to do.”

Archbold Fire Chief Dave Davis said from what he’s heard and seen, “I think it will cut down on the waste. At least that’s their presentation of it, that it will help and save the county money.”

Davis, whose station would hold a vending machine, said he’s aware some of the county’s equipment is outdated, and thinks the vending machines could save substantial money. “That’s why I bought into it,” he said. “If this will help track that better, and make it easier for the county to save money, I’m for it.”

If the proposal is approved the Swanton Fire Department would also house a vending machine. Chief Tony Schaffer said that’s a positive for the department. He also likes that the machines record the usage by first responders.

“From the information we were provided, I think it’s a good way to help keep track of our supplies, espeically since it’s connected to the Internet and it goes to a central location,” he said. “We’re okay with it. I know there are other areas that have had success with this type of program.”

By David J. Coehrs

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.