GFFR puts new ambulance into service

Great Falls Fire Rescue put their newest ambulance into service on Nov. 16 that was purchased this year through a Community Development Block grant from the city.

Over the summer, the City Commission approved a CDBG request from GFFR for $355,042 for the new ambulance that will be based out of Fire Station 1 downtown.

GFFR has an ambulance hosed at the Fox Farm station.

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The new ambulance allows GFFR to increase their transport capability and Chief Jeremy Jones told The Electric that though the city contracts with Great Falls Emergency Services for ambulance transports, the occurrences of their ambulances and the city’s first ambulance being unavailable because they’re already on calls has been increasing.

In their July staff report requesting the CDBG funds, fire officials wrote, that when the ambulance at the Fox Farm station is out of service for maintenance or mechanical issues, “GFFR loses the capability of providing surge capacity transport of medical patients in our community.” The ambulance at the Fox Farm station will remain the primary surge capacity equipment, but “but with the ever increasing call volume in our community, we will have the availability to transport the citizens of Fire District 1 when no private ambulances are available to perform the work.”

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Jeremy Virts, GFFR’s deputy chief of EMS, told The Electric that with the first ambulance, GFFR transported 13 people in September, six in October and five so far this month.

He said that they could have transported more people if they had the second ambulance.

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GFFR now has two ambulances that are fully advanced life support equipped. They both have onboard inverters in the event an isolate or ventilator needs to be plugged in, have the newest in cardiac monitor technology, mechanical CPR devices (LUCAS), and advanced airway equipment, according to GFFR.

“As an EMS system, we are lucky to have this new resource,” according to a GFFR release.

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Jones said that fires have been diminiting with fire prevention efforts and code enforcement and the national trend has been for fire services to absorb more medical response efforts over the last few decades.

During a June work session, Jones told commissioners that in 1970, there were 825 calls for service. In 2020, there 8,575 calls.

Jones said that in 1989, there were 1,433 calls for service and that was the year the department was cut from 68 firefighters to 60.

In 1994, GFFR began responding to all medical calls and in 2000, the department began offering Advanced Life Support response.

In 2001, the department sent its first class through paramedic training thanks to a private financial contribution.

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In 2006, an independent evaluation looked at the pre-hospital EMS system that led to the creation of the city’s code governing that system.

In 2009, the city was selected for a staffing grant but couldn’t take it because the public safety levy failed.

Because CDBG funding has requirements to serve low to moderate income populations, the new ambulance would be housed at Station 1 downtown.

The CDBG program is through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and city staff consulted with the agency’s Denver officer to ensure the request was eligible.

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When they approved the CDBG grant in July, commissioners approved the purchase of one 2020 E-451 Life-Line Ambulance from Hughes Fire Equipment of Spokane, Wash. for $288,668.

The remaining CDBG funds were used to purchase EMS equipment for the ambulance and there will be no impact to the city budget, according to GFFR.

The ambulance was purchased through a cooperative purchasing agreement with Houston-Galveston Area Council, which the city has been a member of since commissioners approved membership in 2015.