Two years ago, Johnson County built a new ambulance station in downtown Iowa City. Bret Carlson is a paramedic who works from this station and says he likes it. The garage is fully equipped with the latest technology, while the office area is sleek and modern looking. But Carlson is disappointed the building does not have a drive-thru garage. He said backing in is inconvenient and unsafe.

“Backing in is the most dangerous part of our operations,” Carlson said, looking back at one of the garage doors. “An Iowa City Police car recently got hit by a fire engine that was backing up.” Carlson added that the operator of the fire truck did have a spotter watching to provide guidance, but that still wasn’t enough to avoid the collision.

Tiffin is a growing community. As the number residents and businesses has increased, so has the presence of the Johnson County Ambulance Service. Fiona Johnson, JCAS Director, said the volume of calls coming from Tiffin shot up by 40% in fiscal year 2019 compared to the previous year. During that period the call volumes from Coralville and Iowa City increased by 10.7% and 13.3% respectively.

JCAS also has a station in Coralville, which gives them quick access to North Liberty and surrounding rural communities. Johnson said the growth in call volume is likely to continue, explaining, “We anticipate another surge in the call volumes for North Liberty and Coralville with the new UIHC urgent care facility and two rehab facilities set to open the near future.”

Both Johnson and Carlson expressed frustration that, unlike police and fire departments, EMS (Emergency Medical Services) is not considered an essential service by the State of Iowa. Many ambulance services in Iowa are run by fire departments (which sometimes strains fire budgets), volunteers, or private entities. Carlson said that if the state government guaranteed funding for EMS, that would better enable the provision of adequate training and equipment for every county.

Johnson said, “That means that a person is not guaranteed an ambulance when they call 911.  Here in Johnson County, EMS is deemed an essential service but in other parts of the state they are not so lucky.”

Paramedic Field Supervisor Amanda Voss-Grimmish said some of the calls they receive could be avoided if students stopped jaywalking on campus at the University of Iowa. For their own safety, she said students should pay attention when crossing the street. During the course of the past year, Voss-Grimmish has responded to two calls that involved a student being hit by a vehicle. One of those vehicles was a bus.

Voss-Grimmish explained her work does not exclusively include rushing patients to the hospital. She said Johnson County residents should feel free to call the JCAS Office to inquire about resources and information available to the general public. This includes CPR and Stop the Bleed training seminars. For non-emergency issues, the Johnson County Ambulance Service can be reached via email at or by phone at 319-356-6013.

— American Exceptionalism 

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