Fire department brings emergency equipment, personnel in-house

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The Manitou Springs Fire Department’s new ambulance sits in front of the station on Feb. 10. (Photo by Rhonda Van Pelt)

(Photo by Rhonda Van Pelt)

On Friday, Feb. 10, Manitou Springs Fire Department leaders were nearly busting their uniform buttons with all the gratitude and excitement they were feeling about the department’s new ambulances. The two gleaming giants, one brand new and one slightly used, sat in front of the fire station on Manitou Avenue that day.

Chief John K. Forsett and Deputy Chief Keith Buckmiller spoke about the additions two days before the ambulances officially went into service at 8 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 12.

Buckmiller explained the importance of having the ambulances and personnel in the heart of the city, rather than waiting for help to come from Colorado Springs via American Medical Response.

“We’ve already taken away one leg of the transport, the ambulance coming from someplace else to here,” Buckmiller said. “So we just have one leg taking the patient to the hospital, which is going to be a huge benefit for patient care.”

Forsett emphasized that geography, not AMR’s ability, has impacted ambulance response times to Manitou.

“Our relationship with AMR, it’s been fantastic, it really has,” the chief said. And we expect it to be that way into the future as well.”

Traditionally, AMR’s contract with El Paso County specified responding to calls in less than 18 minutes — anywhere in the county.

“That’s difficult to do, having that many ambulances on the street at one time to provide the entire county and the city service in a timely manner,” Forsett said. “And since we sit out here on a fringe area, on the far west end of town, we’re kind of like a little island.”

Now, response should take less than five and a half minutes to anywhere within Manitou city limits.

“The outcome is going to be like our motto: ‘Neighbors Serving Neighbors,’” Buckmiller said. “Your next-door neighbor could be in the back of the ambulance with you when you go to the hospital.”

On the way, the first responder can learn more about the patient.

Buckmiller explained that, when it takes twice as long to get a patient to a hospital, outcomes are four times worse for that person and they can go into irreversible shock — or worse.

Your next-door neighbor could be in the back of the ambulance with you.
— Keith Buckmiller

“We would get a call, we would go to the house, we would do the initial care. And then AMR would come take over,” he said. “So we had maybe eight to 14 minutes’ worth of contact time, which will change drastically now.”

City Council first heard the ambulance purchase proposal May 10, 2022. As Public Information Officer Alex Trefry explained, they were paid for out of the city’s Capital Fund through a July 2022 budget amendment. The fire department’s portion of the city budget will fund personnel salaries and the ambulances’ gas and maintenance costs in the years to come.

The older ambulance, which was previously used in Idaho for non-emergency responses, was purchased in October 2022; the brand-new one was purchased in November.

Buckmiller praised Manitou Springs City Council for committing to fund the purchases.

“They took a big risk. … And they did that because they wanted to provide the service for the community,” he said.

To start with, the department needed $625,000 “seed money” to get the new ambulance on Manitou’s streets.

The salary and benefits for the six new staffers, one paramedic and one EMT for each shift, working every day and year-round, will total approximately $600,000 per year.

If those people and ambulances respond to calls outside of Manitou city limits, the city is reimbursed. If the new paramedics and EMTs deploy to another state to help with a natural disaster, the city is reimbursed.

Forsett described what would happen if a multicar accident occurs on U.S. Highway 24.

The county’s emergency communications center alerts MSFD after obtaining information and deciding what resources will be needed. MSFD prepares to roll out while asking questions, such as whether the accident scene is in the westbound or eastbound lanes, because that determines the route the ambulance will take. If more than three people are injured, both ambulances will respond.

When calls come in about injuries on the Manitou Incline, the ambulances will stay at the station to support residents and visitors. The MSFD will continue to partner with El Paso County Search and Rescue; those people will get injured hikers down the steep hillside, then to the ambulance.

Buckmiller opened the new ambulance’s rear doors for a mini-tour on Feb. 10.

He’s especially enamored with the electric lift for gurneys. A simple push of a button and it drops from the ambulance for a patient to be loaded; push the button again and the gurney rises to the ambulance.

“The ambulance will save the patients. This will save our paramedics” from the exertions of loading patients, Buckmiller said.

“This thing is set up to do many, many things and great, great levels of care that are not in a hospital setting.”

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