Worden Ambulance service still looking for good solution

Originally published the 12/8/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News.

WORDEN — The long and winding road to a countywide ambulance service just took a detour.

Instead of voting on a proposal by Belgrade-based Beartooth EMS Rescue to take over Worden Fire Department’s ambulance service, fire department members instead heard that Beartooth was no longer interested in a deal with Worden Fire.

Fire Chief Lance Taylor said Joel Kelm of Beartooth EMS and Rescue, who spoke to the fire department members at their Oct. 2 meeting, had never submitted a written proposal. “That was our whole problem with them,” Taylor said. “It’s not a surprise. This is what I figured might happen.”

At that meeting, Kelm had outlined a plan to purchase one of the department’s ambulances, operate an office on the Huntley Project and respond to calls in the areas the Worden ambulance crew now covers, such as Custer, Pompeys Pillar, Worden, Ballantine, Huntley and Shepherd.

Taylor said the department will look into two other options, including a proposal introduced Monday night by department treasurer Melissa Zimmerman.

Her plan included more cross training for firefighters and EMTs and paying EMTS small stipends to be on call for certain periods of time. She said that could improve response time and even out the numbers of volunteers responding to calls.

Taylor said he liked Zimmerman’s proposal, but needs to study it in depth.

“That one proposal has quite a few different things that we need to look at,” Taylor said. “We need to explore that quite a bit.”

At Monday’s meeting, fire board President Ryan Miller said Joy Eshleman would step in and direct the ambulance service while the Worden Fire Department determines whether to “either move forward with ourselves or move forward with someone else.”

The second option is a discussion with AMR of Billings. Representatives of that group are scheduled to meet with the Worden Fire Department on Jan. 8.

Brad Shoemaker, director of Emergency Services for Yellowstone County, said Tuesday that any levy proposal seeking a countywide ambulance service district would not be placed on an election ballot until at least May 2019. State law requires elections that ask voters to create special districts to be held the first Tuesday in May.

Shoemaker and Taylor said local fire chiefs will schedule town hall-style meetings after the first of the year to explain ambulance service proposals. Taylor said those meetings are likely to occur in February or March. He said countywide ambulance services operate successfully in other counties, including Carbon and Stillwater.

The main thing, he said, is finding a way to provide viable ambulance services.

“We’re here for the community and what is right for the community,” Taylor said. That community should have a say in what their ambulance service looks like, he said.