By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN There are a number of Winsted and Lester Prairie emergency medical technicians (EMTs), trained in basic life support, who volunteer their time regularly to Ridgeview Ambulance to help provide better emergency medical assistance to the area.
Their dedication keeps the rising cost of the emergency service down and cuts the ambulance response time to less than half of what it would be if the ambulance was to come from another town.
However, ambulance service is a full-time community need and there are not enough EMTs available to cover all of the hours in a day.
“We need more volunteers in either Winsted or Lester Prairie because we have periods of time when there is no one on staff up there,” Darel Radde, director of Ridgeview Ambulance said.
“Then we have to send a rig from Norwood Young America or from Watertown over. We have our First Responders, but it would be nice to have the ambulance continue to operate as it has,” Radde said.
Both Winsted and Lester Prairie are located in the northwest corner of 730 square miles of the primary service area dictated by the state of Minnesota as the responsibility of Ridgeview Ambulance.
Radde’s job is to determine what kind of ambulance service each of the cities will receive within the area.
He uses the city population, and the annual number of dispatch calls to decide where to place each of Ridgeview Medical Center’s 13 ambulances for the best possible coverage within that area.
The goal is to try to keep the ambulance response time under 15 minutes at the most.
He also decides if an ambulance will be staffed with a paramedic which provides Advanced Life Support (ALS), or with an EMT providing Basic Life Support (BLS).
Radde, a former paramedic, has worked in the ambulance department of Ridgeview for 32 years. He makes his decisions based on cost because Ridgeview Medical Center has to cover the expense of the service when there are not enough calls that come in.
Winsted has approximately 200 dispatch calls a year, compared to Chaska, which has about 1,200 calls a year.
“The biggest driver is ‘Can we pay for this service?’” Radde said. “Nobody pays us anything for ambulance service. It is all paid for by transport. There are no county subsidies.”
“On a busy day, we pay for today and tomorrow, but we didn’t pay for yesterday,” Radde said.
The more calls, the more revenue that is generated.
Winsted became part of the Ridgeview Ambulance service in 1992 when Allina asked Ridgeview to take over its services.
“When we looked at Winsted, they did not have the number of calls needed to put a single paramedic up there, but they did have other paramedic units that are relatively close,” Radde said.
“To put an ambulance with a paramedic in Winsted would not be cost efficient, especially when there is an ambulance waiting for calls in Watertown which is 15 to 18 minutes away” Radde said.
Responding to a 911 call in Winsted and LP
There is a Ridgeview ambulance ready to be used at a moment’s notice in each of the fire halls of Winsted and Lester Prairie which can be at the scene of an emergency in approximately four minutes.
The use of either vehicle is dependent on whether or not there are EMTs on duty.
If a 911 call comes in to dispatch and the two EMTs from Lester Prairie are on-call, even if the emergency is in Winsted, the Lester Prairie ambulance is used.
If EMTs from Winsted are on-call, the ambulance in Winsted is used.
By having a rig ready in both towns, it saves the EMT travel time and keeps the response time down.
If there are no EMTs on duty, the local police department or fire department First Responders answer the page.
In all cases, a Ridgeview Ambulance from Watertown or possibly Norwood Young America, staffed with a paramedic and EMT, is sent to Winsted with a response time of about 12 to 15 minutes.
If the EMT or First Responders on the scene decide that ALS is not needed, the call for the second ambulance will be cancelled.
During the day, Ridgeview Ambulance service has 10 ambulances ready to respond as soon as a page is received.
There is an ambulance located at Waconia, Watertown, Minnetrista, Chanhassen, Chaska, Belle Plaine, Norwood Young America, Winsted, and Lester Prairie and a back up in Belle Plaine.
Throughout the day, as calls come through, the ambulances are moving around to cover for an ambulance that has been removed from its station because of a page.
The ambulances in Waconia, Watertown, Minnetrista, Chanhassen, and Chaska are all staffed with two paramedics because that is where the heaviest population is.
In the evening, the volume of calls drop so there are only six ambulances, but they are constantly moving around to try and cover the entire geographic area, according to Radde.
“We never drop below six,” Radde said.
Winsted and Lester Prairie EMT volunteers are needed
A first training for an EMT takes about three months, with classes two nights a week for about four hours a night. Classes are currently being offered in Waconia.
Following the classes a national test is given to become certified.
Initially the volunteer pays for the cost of the EMT class, but will be reimbursed for expenses after serving as an EMT for Ridgeview Medical Center for one year.
The position is a volunteer position.
“An EMT gets paid when they go out on a call, but very little to wait for the call,” Radde said.
It works the best to have EMTs volunteer in the community they live in, according to Radde.
“They can be doing whatever until their pagers go off so it doesn’t disrupt their lives as much,” Radde said.
EMTs sign up for the shifts of time they are on call and only when they will be available.
Being an EMT “is not as scarey as people think,” Radde said. “There are some tense moments but there are also some very rewarding moments.”
“A personal benefit (for EMTs) is learning to take care of yourself and your family, so if you are out camping and something happens, you know what to do,” Radde said. “It improves your own self-confidence and assurance that you know what to do.”
Anyone interested in becoming an EMT should contact Denny Bobrowske at (952) 442-2191, ext. 5588.