When the North Fork Ambulance held a series of public meetings in 2015, the public identified response time, increased level of care and financial stability as the top three priorities for the organization.
In response, the non-profit recently added three quick response vehicles to its fleet. The purpose of the white four-wheel-drive Toyota 4Runners, said NFA executive director Kathy Steckel, is to get advanced care providers to the scene more quickly. The vehicles put the most skilled people where they need to be, in the shortest time possible, and at the lowest cost.
"It's a huge step in a higher level of care for people," said Steckel, who along with husband Rick have been EMTs for more than 20 years. It's also in step with a core value of the organization of providing the shortest response time possible.
The vehicles are all equipped to communicate directly with law enforcement and hospitals. Because a paramedic or EMT-Intermediate can communicate directly with emergency room physicians, pain relief and life-saving medications can be administered long before the patient reaches the hospital. That increases the chances of survival and reduces recovery time for patients by allowing them to be comfortable during transport, said Steckel.
With four-wheel drive and an 18-inch ground clearance, the QRVs can go places an ambulance can't, travel over tough terrain more quickly, and if necessary, transport patients from hard-to-reach areas to the ambulance more quickly than a ground crew can.
The NFA services more than 1,500 square miles including Paonia, Hotchkiss and Crawford. In 2015, NFA responded to 742 calls, or an average of about 4.3 emergency responses per week.
NFA has always been committed to improving its level of care, said Steckel. Crew members also commit to providing a higher level of care by completing an additional year of school and training in order to become EMT-Intermediates. NFA now has one paramedic and five EMT-Intermediate crew members, with two more now in school.
A QRV and an Advanced Life Support (ALS) crew member are stationed in each of the three communities serviced by NFA. Each vehicle is equipped for advanced cardiac care, including defibrillators donated from the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. They were never used, said Steckel. "They just needed batteries."
The vehicles have already been put to good use, said Steckel. They are recognizable by their flashing lights and multi-colored strobe lights on the front grill. Decals of the Blue North Fork Ambulance emblems and solid bright green bands were recently applied to the vehicles.
Each vehicle cost about $40,000, said Steckel. About 80 percent of funding came from the $2 fee from state license plate renewals and a USDA Community Facilities grant. The USDA provides funding for essential community facilities in rural areas, with priority given to healthcare, education and public safety projects. "As a rural agency, we score pretty high," said Steckel.
The NFA contributed $26,000 of out-of-pocket money to the vehicles, said Steckel. To save money, the vehicles were purchased used from a Montrose dealership, which gave them "a really good deal." Local businesses were tapped into whenever possible, and much of the added equipment, including the emergency lights, sirens, and multi-colored strobe lights on the front grill, were donated from other agencies. The search is still on for running guards and grill guards.
The decals were designed by EMT and graphic information technology coordinator Kris Stewart and purchased from Lasting Impressions in Paonia. Steckel, Stewart and board president Dan Miller applied the decals in order to save more money.
NFA is the only ambulance service in the North Fork area and relies heavily on memberships and volunteers to maintain a high level of service. In 2015 the organization faced its first budget deficit and anticipates another shortfall this year. "This is why we push so hard for people to send in their membership," said Steckel.
This year's drive, which is winding down, resulted in about 1,600 memberships. Of those, only about 105 were received from those in the 30 to 50 age group. "Anyone over the age of 50 starts thinking, 'Yes, this is really important,'" said Steckel. But illness and injury can strike at any age.
Memberships are accepted year-round. Donations can also be made by designating City Market shopper's cards to the organization. Amazon customers can also sign up for "Amazon Smiles," and Schwann's offers its Schwanns Cares program allowing a portion of sales of orders placed through its website to go to the organization.