Klickitat County’s Emergency Management Services District 1 responders may have set a record for calls received during the month of January.
Director for EMS District 1 Tony Gilmer estimates around 200 calls were received, but the numbers have yet to be finalized. “In December, it was 185 and it’s just been increasingly busy.”
“They were not all injury accidents,” notes Gilmer. “They were more medical than anything. People that couldn’t get out and get care in other ways. People just couldn’t get to the doctor on their own and they kept thinking one of them is going to get better, either they’re going to feel better or the roads are going to get better.”
Gilmer says the weather has definitely been a challenging factor for responders this winter. EMS already has difficulty locating homes that aren’t visibly addressed. It’s not a new issue, but made more evident by absurd amounts of snow.
“This has been an ongoing problem,” said Gilmer. “It’s having visible address signs, knowing how to find you.”
“The number one problem for getting emergency services to your house are addresses, we have a hard time finding people,” he said. “In addition to that, you blanket it with snow that hasn’t been plowed and it’s very difficult for us to get an ambulance to your door.”
Hadassah Management Systems (HMS) staff, who contract with Klickitat Valley Health EMS, work closely with local fire districts to find out the location of a call. Their working relationship has been a boon this winter for responders.
“We work very closely with all of our fire districts for access, they typically know the area in greater detail than we do and they also have emergency equipment that gets us in,” explained Gilmer.
Inclement weather has also prompted the need to work with county road crews.
“We have a great partnership with Klickitat County Road Crew,” he said. “When there is an emergency, they did respond to help us get access to certain homes.” Gilmer noted calling for road crew assistance isn’t a usual task for EMS but this year has provided a lot of help when driveways are snowed in.
To combat snowy-icy roads, ambulances aren’t just equipped with traction tires. “We operate with studded tires, and all ambulances were chained up for a series of days,” explained Gilmer.
Crews used several sets of chains during extended weather events due to chains wearing out. “You try and be prepared to go anywhere in the county and provide coverage, and it’s easier to take the chains off than to put them on,” he noted.
The weather did cause a few delays for responders, but overall crews were able to get where they were needed, Gilmer added. “It wasn’t unusual for 30-minute [delays] in some cases, and out of 200 calls- I’m talking maybe 12 of those 200 were delayed,” he explained.
According to Gilmer, there weren’t any unusual issues stemming from closures of SR 14 and I-84 last month. “We maintain a 24-7 coverage at Goldendale, Dallesport, and White Salmon, and we were able to back each other up,” he said. “There were several instances when we brought on a fourth crew, it was easier to put another ambulance in to service than it was to move vehicles around and maintain that coverage.”
Gilmer suggests folks keep their addresses visible during winter, and when making a call for an ambulance arrange to meet crews at the road, “getting someone to meet at the road reduces the time.”
So far, HMS crews have adapted to each punch winter has thrown. “I’m very pleased with the staff, I think that they were very responsible and anticipated being prepared,” said Gilmer.
“I can’t say enough good about them,” he noted. “I’m very proud of them. We had no accidents and we’re expected to respond 24-7. That’s pretty incredible when you consider the amount of accidents and the challenging weather.”