New Kansas Ambulance Director Turns Obsession into Career

As far back as Jon Antrim can remember, he has been fascinated with lights and sirens.

Growing up in a small Oklahoma town just south of Liberal, Antrim formed a keen interest in emergency response and care – watching for firetrucks, shooting a photo essay on Seward County emergency medical technicians, and riding along with paramedics and police at age 14 as a Liberal/Seward County Emergency Explorer.

“My parents still talk about it. It was kind of an obsession,” Antrim joked in his office in the American Medical Response headquarters in downtown Topeka.

Antrim turned that obsession into an 18-year career in law enforcement. Since November, he has directed AMR, which provides ambulance service for Shawnee and Wabaunsee counties, as operations manager. Moving from Liberal, where he served as administrative captain for the Liberal Police Department, to Topeka has been a bit of a step up, Antrim said, in terms of both coverage area and responsibility. But the Topeka community has made the transition easy, he said.

“Topeka is a bigger city, but it still has a real small-town feel,” he said. “People have been welcoming.”

His responsibilities at AMR are similar to his duties on the Liberal police force, but on a slightly larger scale. In his previous role, he managed budgets, fleets and personnel of a department of about 60. He will be doing much of the same at AMR, which has a staff of 100. He replaced longtime operations manager Ken Keller, who left in July.

Along with working as police officer, Antrim has a master’s in public administration and has worked part-time as a paramedic for 15 years. He hopes to leverage his experience in his new role in Topeka.

“I’ve been in pretty much every position,” he said.

Video: Interview with Topeka, AMR Operations Manager

Shawnee County’s contract with AMR expires on Dec. 31, 2016. The company and its predecessor, Medevac MidAmerica, have been the county’s ambulance service providers since the county last put out a bid for that service in 1983.

But commissioners in March directed the county’s Ambulance Advisory Board to create a document targeted at reopening the bidding process. The proposed document would seek bids from any company interested in entering into a five-year, fixed-price contract to provide ambulance service from Jan. 1, 2017, through Dec. 31, 2021. The contract would contain more stringent requirements than the current arrangement, said Nelson Casteel, county ambulance compliance officer.

At the start of an interview on Thursday, Antrim said he was barred for legal reasons from talking about the contract and bid. Whatever the outcome of the bidding process, Antrim said he has plans to improve AMR’s service.

In the community, AMR should have more outreach, Antrim said. He would like to see the agency teach more CPR classes, starting this month.

Over the Christmas holiday, the Topeka AMR participated for the first time in a “Home for the Holidays” program that AMR has done in other areas. An ambulance team picked up Doug Rodgers at the Plaza West long-term living facility and took him to his family’s home for a few hours Christmas Day, free of charge.

“We want to continue and even increase that program,” he said.

Communication between his agency and local fire departments is on the top of the list, he said. Antrim plans to meet with about 10 fire departments AMR works with to talk about ways to improve communication about training and procedures.

He is also considering having a few of AMR’s paramedics take the Topeka Police Department’s crisis intervention training. The program trains first responders on techniques for handling various crisis situations.

“A lot of the people and situations the police deal with, we also handle, so it makes sense,” he said.

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