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Ambulance district encourages collaboration

Staff Writer | December 5, 2023 1:06 AM

Staff from the two fire stations in Shoshone County have made up the Shoshone County Ambulance Service District since the Shoshone Board of County Commissioners signed the new agency into reality in June 2020. 

But even though the former version of EMS services, the Emergency Medical Services Corporation, worked together to cover the county medical calls, the Shoshone County Fire District No. 1 and No. 2 always kept their fire/EMS staff separate. 

Shoshone County Fire District No. 2 Chief Scott Dietrich and Shoshone County Fire District No. 1 Chief John Miller sat down Monday to go into what they’re calling a “big culture shift” for the way they’re coordinating emergency services in the county.

“Before this last year, the two fire districts didn’t cooperate as much as they could have. Now we’re doing lots of joint training. We agree that this is an important partnership. Almost all of our (emergency) responses, if it’s needed, we’re including both agencies,” Dietrich said.

Miller mused that perhaps the change to collaborate more directly as fellow firefighters and EMS should have happened a while ago, but he’s glad they’re able to band together now. 

Crossing invisible lines between the district has solidified the fire/EMS responders into more of a cohesive unit that just happens to operate from two different starting points. Many of the EMS calls involve one responder from the Osburn station and one from the Kellogg station, but all that matters is that they help save lives.

“The community doesn’t know or doesn’t care who shows up as long as somebody shows up,” Miller said.

Joint standard operating procedures are currently being drafted to create further parallels between the fire districts.

“It’s been an exciting year,” Dietrich said. “How the crews intermingle, that real definite line of ‘I’m a District No. 1 employee,’ or ‘I’m a District No. 2 employee,’ that line has faded a lot. There’s way more of a feeling of ‘hey, we’re a team together’ even though we’re different districts. It’s a whole mindset, and that was not the case when I started here.”

The ambulance districts' operational funds come from both county taxes and billing. And with a lot of funds being invested in building up the infrastructure of the operations as well as investing in more paramedic-level and advanced EMT training for staff to build up critical life-saving knowledge, Dietrich and Miller are also hoping to polish up the program so it operates at a high level for the amount of staff they can support. 

“We both struggle with staffing and we get these incidents sometimes where we don’t have enough manpower, so being able to use people in the other district is really an essential part of it for not only the providers and the people on scene, but for actually being able to accomplish the task,” Dietrich said.

Adding a new EMS charting program in July has also brought some clarity to the ambulance district when assessing data when it comes to providing medical services in Shoshone County in the future.

Equipment updates

The ambulance district secured a new ambulance this year, and there are plans to purchase two more ambulances next year. 

One of the most exciting things for the EMS staff, however, has been the addition of a LUCAS automated CPR machine to the tools on hand. Dietrich said there have been several patient outcomes that have already been improved by the device.

If you imagine performing CPR in the back of a bumpy ambulance ride, it's easy to understand how maintaining consistent chest compressions may be difficult to achieve since the constant movement complicates the normally fairly straightforward lifesaving measure.

“One of us has to drive and there’s only so much one person can do in the back. Obviously, there’s usually help that comes, but it’s not always a guarantee. If we’re all the way up in Mullan, and we have to go to Kellogg here for Shoshone Medical Center, that’s a long haul, so having that device means we could have extra hands, It makes an impact on some outcomes,” Miller said.

One thing that may not be widely known about the county EMS program is that the paramedic isn’t always starting with the ambulance during a medical call. In order to widen the net and have as many people at the ready to respond to multiple calls since they often come at once, there's a white SUV that the paramedic on call may use in Shoshone County. 

They can transfer on to the ambulance if needed on calls, but it keeps the ambulances in rotation closer to the population base when a call comes farther, as was the case Monday when a paramedic traveled to Pritchard and Murray.

"Otherwise, you’re losing the whole ambulance," Dietrich said.

EMS transports in Shoshone County since July 2023

MonthShoshone Medical CenterKootenai Health
    Fire Chief Scott Dietrich powers up the LUCAS automatic CPR machine at Shoshone County Fire District No. 2.