Our service spotlight for the Winter 2023 edition of EMS Connection highlights Union Ambulance District.
Union Ambulance District is in Franklin County, about an hour west of St. Louis, off highways 44 and 50. It was formed in 1928 when the Oltmann family of Union, who owned Oltmann’s Funeral Home, was providing ambulance services for the cities of Union, Villa Ridge, and part of Gray Summit. In Spring 1969, the Oltmanns were able to put three ambulances into service. Staffing was still primarily members of the Oltmann family and part-time staff could post from their homes and come to the funeral home to get an ambulance when a call came in. In 1969, the Oltmann family announced they were getting out of the ambulance business. E.F. “Pops” Oltmann and his son, Ralph approached a group of community-minded citizens and offered to donate the entire ambulance business to this group of volunteers, which included some of Oltmann’s part-time staff and several members of the Union Volunteer Fire Department. This formation was created around the kitchen table at the Oltmann Home.
Services offered by Union Ambulance District expanded, both in geographic region and with the scope of care with John Devos being the first licensed paramedic in Franklin County. The district then hired a full-time paramedic and a full-time paramedic first responder. Cardiac monitors were added and an overall increase in advanced training of staff continued with the first pre-hospital protocols being issued in late 1978.
Union provides ALS coverage to more than 120 square miles that includes the City of Union, part of Villa Ridge, Beaufort, Leslie, and a portion of Washington totaling a population of about 25,000. In 2023, the call volume was over 4,400, which is double the volume they had in 2017. Union has three full-time crews in two stations to ensure coverage to the service area. All staff have ACLS, PALS, BLS, PHTLS, and Certified Ambulance Documentation Specialty. Many employees are also certified in, or in the process of completing, Critical Care Certification, Community Paramedic, Community Health Worker, Peer Support training, Advanced Medical Life Support, Traffic Incident Management, Child Passenger Safety Technician, Principles of Ethics and Personal Leadership, Certified Ambulance Privacy Officer, Designated Infection Control Officer, Emergency Vehicle Operation Course, and Crisis Intervention.
To promote education and a career in healthcare, Union Ambulance District has contracts with several schools including East Central College, Respond Right, Boone County, Jefferson College, and St. Louis Community College. Four Rivers Career Center has health occupation students who get to ride-along to see another aspect of healthcare from the pre-hospital perspective.
Public service is very important to Union, and they are pro-active in the community. Standby ambulance coverage is provided for the Franklin County Fair, Fourth of July Celebration, Polar Plunge, high school football games, Founder’s Day Run, and the Washington Town and Country Fair. Other events include family reading nights at the elementary school, career days, Boo Bash, First Baptist Church Trunk or Treat, intruder drills, CPR and first aid classes for the public, vital sign checks at the senior center, and education to Girl and Boy Scout troops along with day camps, just to name a few.
A unique training event that Union Ambulance District participates in is the Active Killer Training. This training is put on by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, Union Ambulance District, and Union Fire Protection District, but Assistant Chief Kayla Herman brought the training to the next level for fire and EMS. She, along with representatives from Union Fire Protection District, got dozens of volunteers to play victims and gathered several manikins that can bleed out and display other injuries. They put together patient scenarios, and during the event, crews enter the building as they would in a real event and practice triage and extrication of these patients. In the morning, police, fire, and EMS break into groups and learn the fundamentals of their role in an active shooter situation. Then in the afternoon, they run two simulated sessions that start with dispatch and end when the school is cleared of all threats and all patients are brought to their collection points ready for transport.
In 2023, Union Ambulance District was awarded the Gold Achievement Award from Mission: Lifeline, which is a program designed to showcase prehospital agencies nationwide for excellence in heart attack and stroke care. Prehospital personnel are the first care providers to patients suffering from acute emergencies.
In addition, Union Ambulance District received a three-year grant award of $1.2 million from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Rural Health Network Development grant. The effort to submit this grant was made possible in part by support from the Missouri Foundation for Health. The grant will fund MIH infrastructure development in both Franklin and Lincoln counties. The partners have formed the Eastern Missouri Mobile Integrated Healthcare (MIH) network that consists of the ambulance districts in Franklin and Lincoln Counties along with Compass Health Network, Mercy Washington, and Mercy Lincoln.
The leadership team at Union Ambulance District along with Nick Tiepelman, Chief of St. Clair Ambulance District; Tim Wilson, Supervisor at Washington Area Ambulance District; and Heather Pratt, EMS Liaison for Mercy Hospital Washington are taking the National Academy of EMS Physician’s Year Long Quality and Safety Course. The course will assist them in developing their QI programs both individually as districts and collectively under the medical direction of Mercy Hospital Washington. They believe as individual districts they don’t always have enough of a certain type of call to collect good data to make meaningful change. But if they could collect better data together, they hope to make real improvements to their system overall.
Michelle Mayer, Chief/Administrator of Union Ambulance District said, “We really care about our employees and give our employees a say in the equipment we purchase, how policies are written, how protocols adjusted, and what trainings are provided. I really can’t say enough good things about our employees. They are willing to step up and take on additional roles and responsibilities and have an incredible willingness to teach and train.”