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St. Peter’s places ambulances at Helena Valley fire stations to reduce response times

HELENA – St. Peter’s Health provides ambulance service for the city of Helena and much of the rest of Lewis and Clark County. Leaders say, in recent years, there’s been a lot more pressure on that service.

“Over the last four years, we’ve seen about a 35 percent increase in request for services,” said David Webster, St. Peter’s ambulance manager.

Now, St. Peter’s is working on ways to respond faster. Previously, they kept one ambulance crew on duty 24 hours a day, and had another working part of the day. But in April, they added another 24-hour ambulance and another half-day crew. They also have two more crews on call if needed.

Then, in August, they made another change: placing some ambulances at volunteer fire stations in the Helena Valley, as a way to reduce response times in areas farther from the hospital. The West Valley Fire Department is hosting a full-time ambulance at its station on Forestvale Road, while the East Valley Fire Department has one at its station on Valley Drive for 12 hours a day, most days.

“They have been very receptive and very open, and have really provided us with a great partnership,” Webster said.

West Valley fire chief Jerry Shepherd said, after the end of wildfire season, he moved a brush truck out of the station so the ambulance could park inside. He said he’s already seen the benefits of having an ambulance closer.

“They need to get there, especially in something serious,” he said. “Having that paramedic there with their medications really does help.”

Dave Sammons, chief of the East Valley Fire Department, said hosting an ambulance won’t only improve service in the East Helena area, but in parts of Broadwater County as well.

“It’s a quicker response time for not only my department, but all the departments,” he said.

Webster said about 58 percent of St. Peter’s ambulance calls come from inside Helena, while the rest come from outlying areas. He said the average response time was about seven minutes in city limits, 11 minutes in the East Helena area, and 15 minutes in parts of the area served by West Valley Fire-Rescue.

“In West Valley, we’ve seen response times nearly cut in half, and in East Valley, we’ve seen response times cut by about a quarter,” said Webster.

Webster, Shepherd and Sammons said they’re currently discussing whether to make this partnership more permanent. If they move forward, the fire departments will consider adding additional bays to their stations, to give ambulances a permanent place to stay.

Webster said St. Peter’s will keep looking for more ways to improve service.

“Every second is some sort of cell – brain cells or heart cells,” he said. “So anything we can do to reduce response times is significant.”

Jonathon Ambarian

Jonathon Ambarian

Jonathon Ambarian grew up in Southern California, and graduated from the University of Montana in Missoula. He first came to Helena in 2013, to cover the Montana Legislature, and returned in 2016 as a reporter with the Montana Television Network. He's proud to bring viewers stories about the issues that affect them.
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