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Ambulance service ready for emergencies

ROBERT ALLEN
summit daily news
Summit County, Colorado
Summit Daily/Mark Fox
ALL |

FRISCO ” Summit County Ambulance Service has come a long way from the 1960s when a Volkswagon microbus carted ailing patients down the mountains to Denver.

Today, there are high-tech ambulances stationed in Frisco, Dillon and Breckenridge, prepared to respond 24/7. The three ambulances on call increase to as many as eight on weekends and season peaks.

The average ride following a 911 call costs the patient $1,500, and about 30 percent of the charges are never paid.

“People know it’s expensive,” said training supervisor and paramedic Jenn Oese. “We have one of the highest collection rates in the state.”

She said staff aren’t told what rates a potential passenger might pay, for the emphasis must first be on helping the patient. And though the company missed out on about $1.77 million last year, the $3.5 million received has been enough to sustain the services.

“We run very efficiently as it is,” said ambulance service deputy director Roger Coit, adding that the response times are well within state requirements. He said a “common misconception” in the public is that the county funds the service similar to situations in Eagle and Grand counties.

In fact, Summit’s ambulances operate 100 percent through user fees, most of which are paid through health insurance programs. As an enterprise of the county government, the ambulance service uses the county’s information technology and human resources departments.

The ambulance service’s 48 field employees, 21 of whom are full-time, have a variety of advanced training options not offered in many parts of the state. For example, the critical care transport service is a team trained to move patients requiring complex medical care ” often in conjunction with Centura Health Flight For Life.

The ambulance service also participates in several health-related programs and has even offered assistance to a number of disasters and events.

Anyone driving behind one of the Summit County ambulances may notice a seal from the Park City 2002 Winter Olympics.

Oese said two ambulances and rotations of staff were sent to the event, which occurred in Summit County, Utah.

“It was a really cool thing … probably one of the highlights of my career, for sure,” she said, adding that there weren’t many emergencies, but the opportunity to train at a different location is always beneficial.

The ambulance service also sent support for evacuations of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Gustav victims. Incident management team members from Summit were sent to Alamosa during the recent salmonella outbreak as well as to assist with the southeastern Colorado blizzard of 2007.

“(We have) really great people,” Oese said, adding that there are more than 700 years of combined experience on Summit County Ambulance Service.

She said part-time staff are brought in during such disasters and events to ensure there is always sufficient service in Summit.

This is National Emergency Services Week, and Gov. Ritter on Tuesday signed three bills into law to affect such organizations as SCAS. The legislation is to increase grant funding and result in more than 100 new jobs across the state, according to coloradosenate.org.

Emergencies such as bus rollovers and highway pile-ups are high priority for paramedics. Unfortunately, not all motorists obey the rules when an emergency vehicle with flashing lights and sirens is hurrying to the scene.

“I once followed a person from Frisco to Breckenridge,” Oese said, adding that the motorist was swerving through traffic and talking on a cell phone ” not even noticing the ambulance in the rearview mirror.

Motorists are required to slow down and yield to emergency vehicles.

Oese said the technology of newer vehicles makes sirens less audible. But Summit’s ambulances even have a light specially designed to bounce in the mirrors and attract drivers’ attention.

The Dillon Dam Road has been another impediment to the ambulances ” especially those transporting patients to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco. The road is closed every night from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., and a security guard must be called in advance to open the segment passing over the dam.

“We can ask dispatch to call or we call ” a lot of times there’s a really sick person (in the ambulance),” Oese said. “It has been very frustrating for fire service and ambulance service.”

She said there has certainly been an improvement in the months since last year, when the road was temporarily closed to all traffic.

Coit said that even though the ambulances are equipped with devices to turn stoplights green, drivers are trained to expect red lights.

“We really de-emphasize driving fast,” he said, adding that there’s no proof it directly improves patient outcome.

The ambulances are often not first on the scene. Oese said fire engines and police patrols ” of which there are many more in the county ” are considered the “first tier” of responders.

Coit said the ambulance service is always staffed to meet the demands of Summit County’s rural resort communities.

“We’ve been around, we’re here for you and we’ve got a really good program,” he said.

Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or

rallen@summitdaily.com.


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