Resources, volunteer shortages impact rural ND ambulance services, Wing to move to Rapid Response Unit

WING, ND (KFYR) – In rural North Dakota, residents can be far from emergency medical care and now, like many areas of employment, there is a shortage of volunteer first responders. So some are trying to find a solution to make sure every North Dakotan gets care when they need it.

Since the early 1970s, responders with the Rural Ambulance Service Wing have been trained to help those in need. Volunteer EMTs now complete about one call per week.

“It could be anything: car accidents, fires, someone falling down the stairs, medical calls,” said Jessica Kuhn of the Rural EMS Wing.

Four EMTs cover coverage 24-7 and have another job to boot.

“We are reaching a level where we cannot cover the area that is needed for the region. It was a long and difficult decision,” said Sarah Vollmer, president of Rural Wing Ambulance Services.

Due to resource constraints, the team is working with the state to transition from an “Ambulance Service” to a “Rapid Response Unit.”

“If we are there and able, we will respond to the scene, assess the patient and get the patient ready for the nearest ambulance that will take them to the nearest hospital,” Vollmer said.

Wing responders are still ready to help. But another ambulance service, possibly Wilton, will take over transport duties.

“That’s the biggest concern, the biggest reality. We’re going to have a little bit of a delay in getting the ambulance service to the delivery,” Vollmer said.

EMTs say most areas don’t experience a difference in response times, except for the suburbs. And change also comes with positives.

“One thing that will be better is that we, as a rapid response unit, we can respond directly from our homes. We can begin to assess and help with basic care before the ambulance arrives,” said Vollmer.

There are 105 rapid response units in the state. Most have never been full-fledged emergency services, but some, like the Carson Emergency Response Unit, have made the transition in the past. After 18 months of deliberation, Wing decided to follow in Carson’s footsteps.

“This is the best way we can still be active in our community with emergency medicine,” Vollmer said.

Two ambulances and equipment are assigned to the Wing for use with the Rapid Response Unit.

The Wing’s transition to a rapid response unit will take place on Monday night at midnight.

The Wing is looking for people who want to be EMT and EMR certified for this unit.

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