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Ambulance calls increase with population

Western North Dakota ambulance services are feeling the brunt of an influx of residents and ever-increasing oil activity, with some receiving double the amount of calls.

Ambulance

Western North Dakota ambulance services are feeling the brunt of an influx of residents and ever-increasing oil activity, with some receiving double the amount of calls.

The remoteness of many locations is also proving a challenge and traffic has become a major concern.

"The traffic between Killdeer and Dickinson is frightening ... to the point where you're getting passed," said Rob McKinney, manager for the Killdeer Area Ambulance Service. "It happens every single run we make there are people that won't pull over."

McKenzie County Ambulance Service, the only transporting ambulance in the county, has received about a 40 percent increase in call volume over last year, said Kerry Krikava, administrator and full-time paramedic for MCAS.

Every type of call has increased, from trauma and vehicle accidents to oilfield related incidents, said Krikava, who has worked for the ambulance service for 28 years.

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"Our motor vehicle accidents will probably have doubled or tripled by the end of the year," Krikava said.

MCAS has responded to five accidents since Saturday afternoon, Krikava said Tuesday.

"It's getting overwhelmingly big," Krikava said.

With a staff of one full-time emergency medical technician and about 20 volunteers, the Killdeer Area Ambulance Service covers about 730 square miles in Dunn County, 65 square miles in McKenzie County and 33 square miles in Billings County.

McKinney, who has been with the service for about six years, said they usually average 110 to 120 calls per year, but as of the end of September, KAAS is 20 runs over the average.

From Jan. 1 to Sep. 30, 2009, KAAS responded to 68 calls.

During the same time frame this year, KAAS has responded to 141 calls, McKinney said.

The vast majority of calls above last year's numbers are directly or indirectly related to the oilfield, McKinney said.

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"In 2009 we had a total call run of 115 calls the whole year," McKinney said, adding through October thus far, total runs have reached close to 150.

"The biggest thing and biggest change ... is not only the call volume but the type of call has changed completely," McKinney said. "The kind of trauma that we're seeing is unprecedented. It used to be the majority of our calls would be from Hill Top Home of Comfort ... that quickly became not the majority of our calls.

In addition to increased trauma calls, patient demographics have changed to include increased younger patients, he said.

The increase is "straining small-town resources farther than we're currently able to deal with," McKinney said. "It's stretching us awful tight."

KAAS is looking to hire another full-time employee, but funding is a concern.

The MCAS also wants to hire additional employees, but like many other areas, are facing some roadblocks.

"There's no place for them to live here and then we have to compete with oilfield wages," Krikava said.

The impending winter has many medical professionals concerned.

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"I'm personally very, very scared that this winter could become an absolute nightmare for EMS all over southwest North Dakota," McKinney said. "It's frightening. It's truly, truly frightening."

Daniel McGinnity with the Tioga Fire and Ambulance Service, said ambulance runs have doubled, with an average of 120 a few years ago and about 250 last year.

McGinnity estimates about 50 percent of the calls are oilfield related.

Staffed entirely by volunteers, McGinnity said "added runs means burnt out volunteers," something other services are seeing as well.

The traffic doesn't stop before Tioga.

"The roads are very crowded," McGinnity said. "People are always in a rush. It is really kind of scary."

McGinnity said many drivers do not pull over for emergency vehicles.

"There's a lot of poor drivers ... they don't look out like what we're used to," he said.

The Dickinson Ambulance Service isn't as busy during this oil boom with oilfield related injuries as during a boom in the 80s, said Lynn Hartman, administrative director.

"I think the safety stuff must have improved an awful lot," Hartman said.

Local traffic is also impacting the DAS.

"I hear from a lot of our people it's tougher to get across town," Hartman said. "It takes longer to get to where we need to go because there is more traffic."

While the DAS is not being slammed with calls, they are seeing a slight increase in call volume.

"The number of people we contact as potential patients has increased quite a bit so I think part of that is more car accidents with multiple people in the car," Hartman said.

The DAS is looking for another full-time paramedic, but Hartman fears the ever-increasing cost of living in Dickinson will make it tough securing one.

Looking into the winter, Hartman wants to be sure he has enough staff, amid concerns with carbon monoxide, fires and increased traffic.

"We know from talking to other services as development moves closer traffic is a huge problem for them," Hartman said. "So we know that that's going to be a big issue. I don't know that there's much we can do about that, we just know that it's on the way."

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