Iowa pilots rural volunteer emergency responders program

(The Center Square) – Iowa will spend $150,000 to pilot a program aimed at decreasing emergency response times in rural areas.

Calhoun County Public Health, Cass County Board of Health and Van Buren County Hospital will each receive a $50,000 grant through the Empower Rural Iowa initiative, Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office announced Wednesday.

The program, Iowa United First Aid, was adapted from the Israeli nonprofit United Hatzalah, which translates to “United Rescue,” according to her office’s news release. United Hatzalah uses technology to crowdsource nearby volunteer emergency responders. The model has decreased response times to an average of 90 seconds in cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and three minutes across the country.

In Iowa, volunteers will have a phone app that allows them to receive 911 dispatch alerts when an emergency occurs nearby so they can stabilize victims until an ambulance arrives. Volunteers will have training, materials and equipment to perform first aid, bleeding control and CPR. They will also be able to use an automated external defibrillator.

Reynolds said the program reflects the goal of the Empower Rural Iowa initiative: seek innovative ways to improve rural life.

“Iowans deeply value service to their communities and their neighbors, and I believe this program and its volunteers will make a tremendous difference in improving access to emergency services in rural communities and saving lives,” she said.

Applicants had to provide at least a $25,000 local match for the grant, the release said.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority said applicants could be a local unit of government, business or a nonprofit. Entities will receive reimbursement for expenses for approved project activities that occur in fiscal year 2024. The projects or programs must benefit an Iowa community with a population of no more than 20,000 that doesn’t share a border with a city with a population of at least 40,000. County-wide projects had to be one of the 88 least populous counties in Iowa.

The rubric that rated applications emphasized implementation. To receive full points for that category, which accounted for 15 of 55 points, the application had to have a thorough timeline with clear milestones for measuring progress and great detail regarding marketing strategies, volunteer selection and distribution throughout service area, training process and equipment requirements.

The funding can support at least 25 volunteers per county. The Iowa Rural Development Council has provided grant funds to purchase first aid supply bags, equipment and safety identification vests for volunteers. NowForce and PulsePoint donated the technology for the program’s pilot year.

The Messenger reported that Calhoun County Emergency Medical Service Interim Director Luke Winkelman said that he plans to contact civic clubs and veterans’ groups as part of volunteer recruitment work and that volunteers will complete six to 10 hours of training.

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