Grand Lake Fire reports stronger ambulance service
Improving relationships have agencies working together like never before
The Grand Lake Fire Protection District’s taxpayers ushered in a 2019 mill levy telling the department to pursue a few objectives.
Voters favored paying the new tax in exchange for an enhanced ambulance response and services, heightened wildfire suppression and prevention capabilities, and for the fire department to have the necessary equipment and personnel to accomplish those goals.
At the Grand Lake Fire board meeting Feb. 10, board president David Craig had some good news.
“I’m pleased to report that the Grand Lake Fire Protection District is delivering successfully on each of the three of those objectives,” he said before detailing how the department has done it.
First, Craig described a new emergency medical response program, which includes expanded ambulance service and Grand Lake Fire personnel trained in advanced life support. He called it “a significant upgrade from basic life support” and said it means that someone with paramedic-level training will go out on every call.
Beyond that, Grand Lake Fire also has a new quick response vehicle, or QRV, that’s been stocked with lifesaving materials, supplies and drugs normally found inside an ambulance.
Craig continued by referencing Grand Lake Fire’s relationships with its partner agencies, which he said have seen dramatic improvement.
Craig didn’t mention former Grand Lake Fire Chief Kevin Ratzmann, who was confirmed to no longer work for the department in December, but the board president did say that Grand Lake Fire has built a much better rapport with the sheriff’s office, Grand County EMS and Grand Fire in recent months.
Craig specifically commended Grand Lake Fire Interim Chief Seth St. Germain and Grand EMS Chief Robert Good for how well they’ve been working together since St. Germain took over.
The week before Craig’s board remarks, St. Germain and Good were sitting in Good’s Granby office, smiling and in high spirits as they talked about how they’ve been working together and, more importantly, how it’s paying off for those living in Grand Lake Fire Protection District.
The conversation mirrored a lot of Craig’s comments.
“Over the past two months, our relationship has made a 180-degree turn and is phenomenal,” Good said. “We have accomplished more in the past couple months than we were able to do in the past eight months.”
What are some of those accomplishments? He said it starts with a much better relationship overall, featuring constant communication and a better utilization of the two agencies’ resources.
“It’s a total echo, chief,” St. Germain added before turning his attention to the newspaper.
“When Chief Good and I sat down and started to build this partnership plan, those were some of the fundamental foundations that we looked at to address immediately,” St. Germain said.
He lauded the two department’s cross-training and crew cohesion, which are providing better ambulance response times and better emergency services. With Grand Lake Fire handling a wide variety of calls — from incidents on the lake to backcountry rescues — there’s also better depth in coverage with new teamwork between the two agencies.
“All those gaps that we had as far as (ambulance) services go, this plan blankets over top of those and fills everything that we want to address,” St. Germain said. “If we’re four calls deep, everybody is going to be stretched for resources at that point, but the idea is versatility for that first and second call. And yes, we’re aiming to get two paramedics on scene.”
The work between Grand Lake Fire and Grand EMS is being framed as phase one in the agencies’ blooming new partnership with more to come in a second phase.
Craig also that said Grand Lake Fire expects to find savings with Grand EMS providing an ambulance based out of the department and by having Grand EMS stock Grand Lake Fire’s vehicles with drugs and other medical supplies.
Many people don’t realize it, but most of those have strict expiration dates and are expensive to restock, the chiefs said.
“I will say that the collection of bills associated with ambulance service is a huge process and a daunting process, where success is often minimal, so we’re happy to have EMS doing that so we don’t have to,” Craig told the board.
Grand Lake Fire recently withdrew the department’s application for an ambulance transport license after Grand County commissioners made it clear they wouldn’t support a change that took money away from Grand EMS while the agency would still have to cover the same geographic area.
“I’d really encourage the community to focus on the (paramedic), not the vehicle,” Craig said at the board meeting. “A qualified person with the right materials on hand is the most important thing.”
The two chiefs and board president all say good things are afoot in the Grand Lake Fire Protection District.
“In summary, as it pertains to the current status of the mill levy, Grand Lake Fire Protection District has enhanced the quality of care and response time to the taxpayers of Grand Lake at a lower cost while building exceptional collaborative mutual aid relationships within the county,” Craig said. “I’m really proud of what we’re doing, and I hope the taxpayers are too.”
• The average ambulance response time in Grand County EMS District 3, which encompasses the Grand Lake Fire Protection District, was 12 minutes, 5 seconds in 2019. In 2020, by keeping an ambulance in District 3, Grand EMS reduced the average to 10 minutes, 13 seconds. Countywide, the average response time in 2020 was 10 minutes, 11 seconds.
• Grand EMS provides emergency response to all medical calls in Grand County, in addition to working on joint responses with Grand Lake Fire and Grand County Search and Rescue.
• With five ambulances, Grand EMS covers a geographic area larger than 1,800 square miles. It’s not the largest county in Colorado, but it is larger than two dozen countries and the state of Rhode Island.
• In early 2021, Grand EMS has seen a 12% increase in calls compared to the beginning of last year. Grand Lake Fire reports a similar increase in its call volume as well.
• Grand Lake Fire assists Grand EMS on calls for ambulance medical care with on-the-trail injuries in the Idleglen and County Road 4 area, west of the fire district boundary. Technically, Grand Lake Fire leaves its district for these emergencies.
Source: Grand EMS and Grand Lake Fire
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Backcountry permits for the Indian Peaks Wilderness will go on sale online on later this month, according to the US Forest Service.