210714 PHOTO Boulder Ambulances ALEKA

Boulder's two decades-old ambulances sit parked in Boulder on July 13. The city is seeking grants to replace one of them and possibly outfit another with a powered cot. 

Boulder is currently in the market for—and, according to City Council President Drew Dawson, "really needs"—reliable ambulances. Boulder Ambulance Services currently has two ambulances, both of which are more than 20 years old, but a grant the city is vying for could help replace one of the aging vehicles with a new one.

Each year, the Montana legislature supplies the state Department of Transportation with $1 million of grant money to assist rural areas with emergency services, and Boulder applied for funds for a new ambulance from that pot of funds, Dawson said. He added that if Boulder receives the grant, the MDT would handle the bidding process and use the necessary funds to purchase a fully equipped ambulance for Boulder, complete with a "power cot" that raises and lowers patients in and out of the ambulance at the touch of a button.

BAS Maintenance Officer Steve Carey said that Boulder currently has ambulances mounted on van chassis. However, the BAS is seeking an ambulance that is mounted on a truck-style chassis with four-wheel drive, which would cost about $175,000. Other equipment the BAS is seeking includes a $36,000 Zoll X series monitor—which displays a patient's vitals including heart rate, oxygen saturation, blood pressure and body temperature—and the $40,000 Stryker power cot, Steve Carey added. 

The City Council decided at their June 21 meeting to allocate $52,000 that the city received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act—a March 2020 pandemic relief package commonly referred to as the CARES Act—towards providing the matching funds for the grant. Dawson said in a phone call on Monday that the match requirement will be less than anticipated at the June 21 meeting. Dawson said the city is not sure what they will use the remaining CARES funds for. However, an additional $8,000 from the CARES funds will go towards EMS training and continued education, BAS Assistant Director Molly Carey wrote in an email to The Monitor. 

Steve Carey said he submitted the grant application on June 29 with letters of support from Dawson, Mayor Rusty Giulio and St. James Hospital CEO Jay Doyle. According to MDT Program Manager Chad Newman, a team is being put together to review the grant applications, and the team will eventually make a recommendation of recipients to the director of the MDT. Newman said that the winner of the grant would likely be decided by the end of August. 

"It’s a big deal. We’ll keep our fingers crossed because it would be a boon for patient care," Dawson said.

The city of Boulder currently has two aging ambulances—one from 1996 with more than 106,000 miles on it, and another from 2001 with more than 113,000 miles on it, according to Molly Carey.

Dawson said the city has tried to operate the ambulance service like a business. For example, they charge for services, bill for insurance and provide a "slight payment" to volunteers who respond and to BAS coordinators. Despite the city's efforts, and although the ambulances are old, the city does not have the funds to replace them, he said.

Dawson added that the BAS is currently short on volunteers. According to Steve Carey, the BAS currently has seven people to cover emergency services for all of Boulder. 

Dawson said the new ambulance would be a "great recruiting tool" for volunteers, which would be a game changer with the BAS's heavy reliance on volunteerism. Citing frequent back injuries among volunteers, he added that the ambulance's powered cot would be a huge asset for recruitment as well, because emergency personnel often face challenges lifting patients.

"There is limited control over the physical agility of people who join," Dawson said, adding that powered cot would mitigate the physical barrier for many who wish to volunteer.

The BAS also applied for a $20,000 first responders and emergency services grant from the Town Pump Charitable Foundation in March 2021, Steve Carey said. He said that BAS could use these funds for upgrading equipment, and potentially for outfitting an existing ambulance with a power cot. He said in a call on Monday that Boulder was notified in late June that it was awarded the Town Pump grant, but as of Monday the city was still waiting to receive the funds. 

Steve Carey previously wrote to The Monitor that the Town Pump grant funds wouldn't be allocated for a specific equipment purchase until city and BAS leaders know if they are getting the larger MDT grant. 

Dawson said he was excited about the potential of the Town Pump grant allowing the BAS to purchase a power cot, in addition to the one the city hopes will be in a possible new ambulance.

"That way, both ambulances could be equipped with them," Dawson said.

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