Incoming EMS director Ed Debesis doesn’t start full-time duties until March 30, but Monday found him in Marion anyway, as were all five county ambulances.
It was state inspection day, and there was work to be done.
Not that Debesis minded in the least — EMS is his passion.
“I believe that’s why I’m on this earth, to help and assist the public,” he said. “I do other stuff, but when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of it, when those tones go off, my ears perk up.”
He caught the EMS bug after moving from New Jersey to Kansas in 1992. He was a volunteer firefighter in Osborne when he started taking emergency medical courses toward the goal of becoming a full-time fireman.
“I fell in love with the EMS stuff,” he said.
His first full-time EMS job was in Herington, where he stayed for a couple of years, and had stints in Stockton and Erie before settling in to a 15-year stay with Mitchell County EMS in Beloit.
Nine years into his run at Beloit, the director’s position became vacant, and commissioners asked Debesis to step in as interim director.
“I didn’t know if I wanted it,” he said. “At that time I still didn’t know if I wanted to be in administration. I took the interim, liked it, thought I could improve the service, so I accepted full time.”
Mitchell County EMS had significant changes during Debesis’ tenure, expanding to a service employing 20 full- and part-time emergency personnel, opening a second station, and having paramedics staffed round the clock 365 days a year, he said.
When the service reached its desired plateau, Debesis said he felt he was ready for a change. He applied for the Marion County director position created when Steve Smith resigned.
Commissioners threw Debesis and other candidates a curve when they decided to save money by hiring an EMT, Brandy McCarty, rather than a top-level paramedic.
Primed for a change, Debesis signed on with Lifeteam as an air ambulance paramedic based in Garden City, a job he’s continued while interim director, and one he’ll keep doing on a limited basis.
“Three days a month I’m going to still fly,” Debesis said. “I told the commissioners that I really enjoy it, and to keep my skill level up I’d like to continue doing that.”
After a year of turmoil that included disciplinary actions against three county crew members, the forced ouster of a Tampa crew chief, the termination and later reinstatement of Peabody paramedic Larry Larsen, and McCarty’s resignation, Debesis said things have calmed down as he prepares to take the reins full-time.
“I feel very confident now that we’re getting back to where we need to be,” he said. “Initially with everything else going on it was pretty rocky there for awhile. The commissioners did a terrific job of getting (consultant) Terry David on board and starting on his recommendations. We just took it one day at a time.”
While David has completed his evaluation of the service and made recommendations, don’t expect any major changes to happen soon, Debesis said.
His first order of business will be to get to know EMS crew members and develop a more complete perspective of what has been going on with the service, he said. Along with that, he said he intends to work on recruiting additional personnel and providing the training necessary for them to come on board.
“Marion County has a phenomenal group of volunteers, very dedicated people,” he said. “One of the things we need to look at is trying to relieve some of the people that are pulling 300 to 400 hours of call a month.”
Debesis said he will go on ambulance runs, too, although he won’t be affiliated with any particular crew.
“I’ll be more of an advanced-life-support asset to the county,” he said. “It gives the option to have ALS for the whole county at the paramedic level.”
Another priority for Debesis is for EMS crews to be “out in the public eye” at community events to raise awareness and support for what they do.
“There’s not a better place to meet your EMS crew than at a nice setting, rather than at horrible settings,” he said.