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Study shows which oil boom areas most need ambulance station

Large swaths of west-central McKenzie County and the Fort Berthold reservation are in great need of ambulance stations, a study has found.

Southwestern Mountrail County, Gladstone, Spring Brook and certain areas outside Minot also need stations, according to a study commissioned by the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties.

Concerned with the number of fatalities on the roads in the northwestern corner of the state, the association wanted to see if there was an underserved area that could benefit from more ambulance services, especially until U.S. Highway 85 becomes four lanes, executive director Vicky Steiner said.

Steiner said "it's pretty much conventional wisdom" that the Alexander and Mandaree areas would be the neediest places, but it's good to have hard data on hand.

The association has spent about $60,000 on the study.

Representatives from Ulteig, the firm that did the study, will present the study results at the NDAOGPC's annual meeting in Dickinson later this month.

The executive committee may then consider pooling state and county resources to supply more ambulance services, or applying for grant funding to do so, Steiner said.

"You're more likely to receive funding if you have credible data," she said.

Steiner said the association won't be addressing the smaller underserved areas because it will likely only be able to do one or two projects.

Mike Zimney, Ulteig's lead GIS analyst for the study, said with the large demands on services in the Bakken area, the study helped narrow down the areas most in need.

He said the study could help propel discussions of a new station, especially since the report is based on hard data and not "political input."

"This kind of brings it from those preliminary discussions of, 'Hey we need it,' but to the point now where they can start showing it on the map," Zimney said.

Jerry Samuelson, McKenzie County emergency manager, said ambulances based in Watford City sometimes have to go distances of 40 or 60 miles, and traffic makes it worse.

"The distance is one thing, but the traffic is another thing," he said.

The Ulteig firm examined factors like population, existing resources and crash hot spots to identify areas of need.

The report noted that areas in need correspond with locations of oil well activity -- and western North Dakota first responders are also dealing with situations they didn't encounter before the boom.

"They used to go on calls that would be more related to a vehicle crash in a town or something like that," Zimney said. "Now they're responding to trucks carrying hazardous material [that] have a crash so they're kind of ... brought into a whole new type of level in the work they're doing."

Samuelson said the first responders are dealing with more of what was already there before the boom.

"They dealt with traffic accidents before but not the numbers and some serious stuff," he said.

Compared to the usual rural first responder situations like heart attacks and car crashes, Zimney said, "the Oil Patch has introduced a whole different type of animal."