Calls of Duty: Dunn County’s Ambulance Teams Rise Above Challenges

Forget the construction zones, the fleets of oil and water trucks clogging popular byways, or the hundreds of square miles of snaking rural roads that…

By Jennifer Kocher

Dunn County Herald

Posted August 31, 2012

Forget the construction zones, the fleets of oil and water trucks clogging popular byways, or the hundreds of square miles of snaking rural roads that may or may not register accurately on a GPS. When a 911 call comes, the only thing on emergency responders’ minds is how fast they can get to the accident scene.

And that’s no small feat for those responders working in Dunn County, as roads become trickier to navigate and the number of calls continues to rise.

To say that the Killdeer and Halliday volunteer ambulance squads are up against enormous challenges is to put it mildly. The Killdeer squad currently covers 467,068 acres of land throughout Dunn County. Depending on need, that area might also include 65 square miles in McKenzie County and 33 square miles in Billings County. Meanwhile, the Halliday ambulance team is responsible for 262,419 acres, or 410 square miles, in Dunn County and 110 acres in Mercer County. This means that depending on location, it might take an ambulance anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes to even reach the scene, let alone to turn the ambulance around and maneuver it through the heavily trafficked, construction-clogged obstacle course going south on Highway 22 into Dickinson.

“Driving can get tricky,” said Denise Brew, Dunn County emergency manager and volunteer ambulance crew member.

Although there are crew members designated specifically to driving, when those drivers are not on duty, other crew members take turns at the wheel. Brew recounts one memorable incident in which a Dickinson police car was hit head-on while trying to escort the ambulance through the construction zone into town. The police car was totaled though luckily nobody was hurt.

For this reason, Brew and other ambulance drivers only run “hot” – with sirens and flashers on – and receive police escort only when absolutely necessary, as it tends to cause too much confusion on these heavily laden double-lane county roads and can be too risky for all involved.

Nonetheless, the ambulance members are not deterred by the roads, nor any of the other impending challenges, and instead seem compelled to serve their communities out of an inherent call to duty. What’s more, with the exception of one paid full-time member, the remaining 21 members of the Killdeer ambulance team are all highly skilled volunteers working elsewhere in full-time jobs. Among the Killdeer squad, there are five paramedics, two EMT-Intermediates, six EMT-Basics, seven First Responders, and two members who are CPR certified.

Meanwhile, with no paid full-time members, the Halliday ambulance team is comprised solely of volunteers, with 24 squad members, including eight EMT-Basics, six Advance First Aid responders, nine First Responders, and one certified driver.

And although technically the squad members are not always on duty, many of them nonetheless consider it to be a full-time, around-the-clock, 24/7 job.

“It’s become a second instinct,” said Sandy Rohde, Killdeer ambulance team member, who is constantly listening for 911 calls to come over her radio. In fact, during the day, Rohde keeps her radio tuned on the window sill behind her desk, where she works full-time as the Planning and Zoning Code Administrator for Dunn County.

“If a call comes in, particularly something serious, Denise (Brew) and I are out the door,” Rohde said. “It’s automatic. You don’t even think about it.”

Luckily, her employers, like those of most ambulance squad members, are supportive of their employees’ volunteer service and allow them the flexibility to leave their jobs during the day. It’s a generous decision, considering that most calls will keep a responder wrapped up for about three hours.

And while the number of volunteer ambulance members remains relatively constant, the number of calls coming in only continues to grow exponentially, particularly since the influx of oil activity began in the region. In the fiscal year of 2008-09, the Killdeer ambulance squad responded to a total of 129 calls, the bulk of which were traffic-related incidents, many of them oil-related. This year, through July, the Killdeer team has already responded to about 167 calls and, at this current rate, will no doubt surpass last year’s total of 200.

Halliday responded to 25 calls in 2008-09, 40 in 2011, and has already hit 36 just seven months into this year.

By far, the most common type of call for emergency responders is motor vehicle collisions, the majority of which continue to be oil-related incidents, which is not surprising given the increased activity on Dunn County roads. According to Bob Oshefske at the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT), 6,700 vehicles passed through Killdeer in October 2011 alone, and this number only continues to grow.

This influx of oil field activity has also introduced a new challenge of answering oil-trauma related accidents, most of which the emergency responders have never encountered in practice nor training.

“It’s all new,” said Brew, “but we do the best that we can and we learn more every day.”

Their primary frustration at present is that with the increased number of calls and the size of their current workforce, the squad simply can’t be everywhere at once, despite the request for their services to be on hand at various local events. With only a limited number of equipment, ambulances and people at their disposal, a 911 call takes precedence and sometimes this entails two or more calls at once.

Despite the challenges, both Brew and Rohde consider their volunteer work with the ambulance squad an incredibly rewarding experience. In fact, they consider it a privilege to be able to serve their community and its members and don’t consider themselves in any way to be heroes.

“If anybody is a hero it’s our families and the people in our lives who support our service and pick up the slack when we jump up in the middle of dinner and leave them with the mess,” said Brew. “Especially on holidays when they count on us to be home together.”

“You have to work together in a rural community,” Rohde agreed. “It just comes from the heart. There’s something really special about seeing the relief in a person’s eyes when they look up at you and just being there to hold their hand.”

The ambulance crews periodically hold EMT and First Responder courses for those community members who are interested in volunteering. For more information, please contact the Killdeer Ambulance Squad at: (701) 764-6300.










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