Council hears of ambulance service and vaping problems
By Diana Haecker
The Nome Common Council heard sobering testimony from a family whose 67-year-old mother died after a harrowing wait for an ambulance that never came. Kelly Bogart gave public comment over the phone during the meeting pleading with the Council to make changes to the way the ambulance service is conducting their response. Her emotional testimony recounted the night of Sept. 20 when her mother Phyllis “Punky” Punguk fell in her home, hit her head and could not get up. Bogart said her stepfather Charles Punguk called her to come to the house. Over the course of the next 40 minutes, she notified her siblings and called 911 four times while they were trying to help their mother who was breathing, but complained of stomach pains. Bogart finally pleaded with 911 dispatch if they could send a police officer to help, but the dispatcher told her that NPD cannot do that. Nearly 40 minutes later, the city’s EMT Hunter Bellamy arrived in the EMT car, not the ambulance, and rendered much appreciated assistance, Bogart said. The mother was taken to the hospital but she didn’t recover and passed away.
Bogart and her family’s qualm are not with the EMTs on staff or the volunteers.
“Now we’re wondering if an ambulance or medical help had arrived sooner would my mother still be with us today?” she said, in tears. “This is not okay.” She suggested the city look into increasing staff. “Please make changes so that others don’t have to physically carry their own loved ones into a vehicle because no others are coming to help,” she said.
Council chambers fell silent after Bogart’s comment and finally Mayor John Handeland offered words of condolences and said that he wasn’t aware of her mother passing. “We will ask for additional information from the city manager and the police department with regard to this particular case,” he said.
City Manager Glenn Steckman responded that the City and NPD Chief Mike Heintzelman are conducting an investigation in the matter. “There is no reason why an ambulance, frankly, was not there,” he said. “There is no excuse.” He added that that people expect an ambulance dispatched out of the Public Safety Building as soon as a call for assistance comes in, but usually volunteers have to first get to the ambulance barn which could take between seven and 10 minutes, and then from there respond to the call, which could take another three to five minutes. “But that ambulance, frankly, should have been out there far earlier than it was and the Chief is investigating what happened,” Steckman said.
This is not the first time the lack of response was brought up, remarked Councilmember Mark Johnson. He said the Council had requested a work session before and he renewed his call again for a work session to address the issue.
Prior to Bogart’s phone call, Nome Beltz Middle High School Principal Teriskovkya Smith took to the podium to bring to the council’s attention the vaping epidemic that doesn’t stop at the doors of the Beltz Campus. “I don’t believe that it’s a Nome Beltz issue. I think this is a community issue,” she said. She described how addictive the vaping devices are and how the kids are not aware of much nicotine equivalent they are vaping until they need to stop. “I’m talking to an 11-year-old who is going through withdrawals because she’s been smoking almost two packs a day worth of nicotine with these devices,” Smith explained. The side effects of withdrawal are immediate. “The only time that our students are aware of those impacts are when they try and stop. And because they’re underage, the resources that are available to them are almost none. We have a good partnership with Camp through the hospital. But in the past when we catch someone with a device, we suspend them. But exclusionary discipline doesn’t address the issue which is the addiction.”
Smith said she had written letters to the governor and to politicians, she has visited the dispensaries and even confronted the individuals in town who she knows are selling “to let them know that I know that they’re selling.”
“And my reason for being here tonight is that now there’s a website where students can procure these devices, there’s talk of opening up a vape shop in town, and that makes me as an educator, given the job to keep our community’s children safe in my building, it makes me nervous,” she said.
Four students in the audience stood up and took to the podium in the second public comment period, supporting Smith in her concern of vaping in the schools. They were Luke Hansen, Isaiah Marble, Bert Kuzuguk and Michael Marvin, offering their help. “The vaping has gotten to be humongous problem,” Isaiah Marble said. “And it just …we hate to see it happen.”
City manager and the mayor said that the talk of a vape shop opening in town is not substantiated, but they and council members, agreed on addressing the issue in a work session. The date set for the work session is Oct. 10, at 5:30 p.m.
Councilmember Scot Henderson during council member comments echoed the request for a work session on both the ambulance and vaping issues and said “You have our attention, you have our attention. And we’re going to look at this, both of these issues, very closely and will be making some recommendations to hopefully address the issues.”
In other business, the Council passed in second reading an ordinance to sell small parcels of land to the state DOT to facilitate the reconstruction of Seppala Drive, a project to be done next year.
The Council also passed a resolution to hire election judges and clerks for next week’s municipal election.
The next council meeting would be on October 9, but this falls on Indigenous Peoples’ Day and City Hall will be closed, Steckman said.
The Council recessed and went into executive session to discuss legal and/or personnel matters. The Chief of Police was asked to stay.