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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Tower Ambulance looking to update second rig

Jodi Summit
Posted 8/4/21

TOWER- The Tower Ambulance Commission will begin meeting monthly, instead of quarterly, starting in October, as the advisory group begins to look at options for updating the service’s backup …

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Tower Ambulance looking to update second rig

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TOWER- The Tower Ambulance Commission will begin meeting monthly, instead of quarterly, starting in October, as the advisory group begins to look at options for updating the service’s backup ambulance, a 2013 GMC 4500 with 109,635 miles on it.
Ambulance Supervisor Dena Suihkonen also received permission from commission members to retire Rig 3, a 2005 Ford E450 with over 100,000 miles that is in poor condition.
“The ambulance is worth maybe $5,000,” said Suihkonen, “and it will take more than that to fix it.”
The service’s new ambulance, a 2019 Chevrolet 4500 with 18,961 miles, has been used for the majority of runs this year, said Suihkonen, and has been running great. But at times, the service is responding to two calls at the same time and requires two ambulances in working condition.
The backup rig does not have an auto-load cot system, and this can be difficult to maneuver safely for many of the current department members.
The new rig has the auto-load cot, equipment that is now required for new ambulances.
“It’s a huge liability if we drop a patient or if an EMR hurts themselves loading the cot in or out of the ambulance,” she said. This is mostly an issue if the patient is bigger than the emergency responders, which is often the case.
“When we take out that backup rig,” said Suihkonen, “we are hoping that it’s not a big patient or a long run.”
Suihkonen said she had been looking into two options to solve this problem: either replacing the 2013 rig with a newer remanufactured ambulance that includes an auto-load system, at about half the cost of purchasing a new ambulance; or looking at using some of the ambulance subsidy dollars to purchase an auto-load cot for the current backup rig. The auto-load unit will cost close to $30,000, she said, and may be compatible with a cot that the ambulance service already owns. Once purchased, the auto-load system would be moved into a new ambulance.
“You don’t find them used because services keep moving them to their new units,” she said.
“We really need to do more research,” said Suihkonen.
The board decided to start meeting monthly, instead of quarterly, starting in October, to research these issues and then also decide if it’s appropriate to use ambulance subsidy dollars to purchase equipment, instead of just the ambulance unit. Since these units are now required on new ambulances, they said, it may make sense to make this change.
“If it’s a required piece of equipment, I have no problem with it,” said Eagles Nest Township representative Larry McCray. “I just don’t want to move into the realm of additional equipment.”
The commission is going to need to consider replacing the 2013 rig at some point in the next few years, in either case.
The ambulance subsidy account currently sits at $63,695, but only two of the area townships have made their annual contributions so far this year. At the current subsidy rate, the townships and city contribute about $40,000 a year to this fund.
Commission members also agreed to the 2021 ambulance vehicle replacement aid agreement, basically with the same language as in 2020, with the same $1.66 per mile payment into the subsidy fund by the city for any miles put on the ambulance during non-emergency transfer calls. The actual contracts need to be approved and signed by the individual townships. The ambulance service did 17 transfer calls in the first half of the year, most of which were within a 30- to 90-mile radius, according to Suihkonen, and are only accepting transfer calls if there are two additional EMR’s available on standby to take 911 calls while the other ambulancei as out on a transfer. Suihkonen said most of the transfer calls are Medicare or Medicaid patients, and the reimbursement rates are much lower than for a private insurance patient, so these calls are not producing a profit for the service.
The service has recorded 226 calls for the first six months of the year, but 53 calls required no transport.

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