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Billings Fire Department looking for new emergency vehicle

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Posted at 5:40 PM, Mar 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-30 12:56:30-04

BILLINGS — The Billings Fire Department is continuing its search for a new mobile response vehicle, which could free up fire trucks from hundreds of medical calls a year.

“We’ve been running around 20,000 calls a year,” said assistant fire chief of emergency medical services, Jason Banfield.

Most of these calls are actually not for fires.

“Between 60 and 85 percent are medical calls or delivery of services calls, rescues, car accidents, spills, and hazmats,” Banfield said.

Emergency medical services are not considered an essential service in the state of Montana. A private provider, American Medical Response, is dispatched to 90 percent of these calls.

Banfield says that the number of calls is escalating, which increases the strain on AMR.

“They’re getting pressure by the county at this time to provide services outside the city,” Banfield said.

The fire department has been looking at solutions. Voters passed a $7 million public safety mill levy in November in part to create mobile medical response teams.

If approved by city council, these units would respond to all kinds of medical calls, including those involving behavioral health and psychiatric care.

“That’s to support those people in our community that are in crisis,” Banfield said.

What’s still up for debate is how those teams will get around.

An ambulance is one option, but it can cost up to $300,000. The fire department is looking at alternatives, like smaller SUVs.

“What we can do is something small, a Ford frontline all-wheel-drive vehicle, usually cheaper to run, better in the snow in Montana,” Banfield said.

However, fire officials have made no final decision.

Banfield says the ultimate goal is to meet that rising demand for service, head-on.

“It’s not going to change the amount of calls we go on but it’s going to make us more available,” Banfield said.

Related: Billings firefighters preparing mobile medical teams, thanks to levy dollars