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Emergency officials feel energy impacts

Press Photo by Beth Wischmeyer Brent Pringle, Stark County emergency manager, gives North Dakota legislators a tour of the Stark County Emergency Management and 911 facility, located in the Law Enforcement Center in Dickinson on Wednesday.

In part two of a two-day meeting, state legislators listened to city and area road and emergency officials Wednesday as they testified regarding how energy and business development is affecting the area, which includes 911 operations and the safety of emergency personnel.

The North Dakota Legislative Council Public Safety and Transportation Committee members met with area officials and media representatives Tuesday to tour an oil rig near Killdeer and discuss energy development impacts on infrastructure.

Wednesday, officials from the Stark County Road Department, the City of Dickinson, and Killdeer Area Ambulance, among other agencies, testified for legislators.

The safety of emergency personnel is a concern, said Denise Brew, with the Killdeer Area Ambulance.

A lot of "frightening" episodes have gone on, she added.

"The EMT's are physically threatened and in fact been struck," Brew said. "There's a new law that's been passed that physically assaulting an EMT in an EMS response is a felony. Our law enforcement in Dunn County, they're a very important aspect of our response."

When responding to incidents in rural areas, the speed at which emergency response crews can travel is impeded by the condition of the roads, she added.

"We are struggling with staffing, and some days we have severe shortages, but we also have a crew that's very dedicated and no matter the situation, we always come through," Brew said.

Killdeer Area Ambulance Paramedic Troy Nies, who was struck and had a partner taken to the ground while responding to incidents, said a shift in calls over about the past year or so has been from an elderly population to a younger population, with more trauma involved.

"Motor vehicle accidents, industrial-related accidents, in our case, last year, 33 calls alone were oilfield related," Nies said. "A lot of people we're responding to now are not locals."

Nies said the agency is also seeing a spike in patients that are under the influence of drugs and alcohol, which can affect whether or not the situation is safe for emergency officials.

The agency has applied for some grants, Nies said.

Emergency officials said they also sometimes have trouble with pinpointing an address to get to if it comes from a cellular phone. While GPS coordinates can be used in those cases, officials say it can be "a fairly big dot", and may take them a while to pinpoint the exact location.

"We as an ambulance squad are responding to changes in our calls," Brew said. "There are increasing numbers in our 911 calls being placed in vehicles for assistance, most of these are personnel working in Dunn County, but they are not residents."

Out-of-state workers are some of the biggest users of the area's 911 system, said Rep. Shirley Meyer, D-Dickinson.

"All those jurisdictional fees are sent to wherever they (callers) are located, Utah, Wyoming, wherever the crews are from and their cell phones are being paid for," Meyer said. "The local jurisdictions do not benefit from any of our 911 emergency fees."

Sen. George Nodland, R-Dickinson, feels some local counties are not helping their ambulance service financially to the maximum they are allowed.

The conditions of area roads were also a topic of discussion at Wednesday's meeting.

Al Heiser, Stark County road superintendent, said the county has 82 bridges that are 20 feet or longer. 33 of the bridges are eligible for replacement.

The city of Dickinson has seen a "significant" deterioration in its infrastructure, said Shawn Kessel, Dickinson city administrator.

"Over the past few years we have seen projects in which the State of North Dakota as a partner has had delays, and with the added traffic, this combination has greatly accelerated the failure of the streets," Kessel said.

Kessel said some specific concerns include the expense of signalization of intersections within the city and the large dollar amount of the grade separation with railroad tracks.

The meeting was located at the Days Hotel-Grand Dakota Lodge.