GREAT FALLS — 2022 was shown to be more active than usual in terms of ambulance transports.
Great Falls Fire Rescue reported that they provided ambulance transport 141 times, a dramatic increase from the 74 transports in 2021.
Great Falls Fire Chief, Jeremy Jones stated, "December was busy no matter what, across the board for all types of call volumes. It (December) ended up being our highest transport call we've ever had. If you go back five years, we didn't do that many transports in a whole calendar year, let alone one month. It has definitely become a burden on providing services."
Jones added, "To be able to provide that level of service to our constituents, we really have to give something and risk-manage what the benefit is. Currently, we operate our ambulance in conjunction with our fire truck outside of fire station 4, out of Fox Farm neighborhood. We call it cross-staffing, in which we send the appropriate vehicle to the right type of call. With the amount of needs to provide transport services, that vehicle is out of district in conducting patient transport more than it ever has."
In December 2022, GFFR transported patients 33 times in the event private ambulances weren’t available.
Jeremy Virts serves as the Deputy Chief for GFFR. He also has experience working for Great Falls Emergency Services. He mentioned that there were different levels of calls they received ranging from basic life support (BLS) to advanced life support (ALS). Examples of advanced life support include stroke and cardiac arrest.
Virts said they are referred to as a med-3 vs. med-1 response. Currently GFFR responds to Med-3 responses, which is designated by a medical emergency dispatch guide. Information is put into a Computer-aided dispatch system. Virts says this is an effective system, as it takes most of the human element out of the dispatch, and resources the right apparatus for the right call.
An amendment allows Great Falls Emergency Services to provide a minimum of two ALS staffed ambulances. In this case, paramedics are onboard, at all times. Ambulances above the minimum number must be staffed at the BLS level.
Great Falls Emergency Services saw a record high of over 10,000 ambulance transports throughout Cascade County in 2022.
GFES General Manager, Justin Grohs said, "December of 2022 was an unusually high call volume, medical 911-wise. December tends to be a busier month ... No one anticipates that level of call volume continuing in the foreseeable future, although the call volume in the area is going up little-by-little."
Grohs said call volume can be very hard to predict. He added that there are "surge events," in which a high number of calls are received. This can especially pose challenges for low-staffed agencies.
Grohs said that's where their close relationship with GFFR comes in.
"That's one reason we value our partnership with the City of Great Falls. We work closely with the Fire Department and co-respond to code-3 emergency calls. The city has an ambulance as well, when those surge events occur. If we have three or four units on duty, but for this one situation that's going to happen once in a month or once every two months, where six ambulances are needed at one time, they can deploy that ambulance to pick up that surplus."
GFES is contracted with the city for ambulance transport services of 911 medical calls within city limits, along with the contracted fire districts that Great Falls Fire Rescue protects.
Jones said, "being that we're in charge of EMS for the City of Great Falls per title eight chapter five, we've been monitoring this throughout the duration of the contract with the private ambulance company being GFES in tracking trends and needs, and trying to stay on top in meeting the needs of our community by supplementing the work that we do and augment that system, but it is becoming taxing moving forward."
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