It’s been a little over a month now since Billings Fire Department rolled out its first mobile response team vehicle. These two-man teams have stayed busy since then responding to medical calls—from something as simple as a stubbed toe to something as serious as a heart attack.
“It’s kind of like the Wild West—you and your one partner get to be first on the scene,” says Josiah Laszloffy, a firefighter and paramedic.
The first mobile response team vehicle, a light-weight brush truck loaded with medical gear, is based at fire station 6 in Billings Heights and was funded from $1 million that went to the Billings Fire Department from the 2021 voter-approved public safety mill levy.
Each team consists of an officer and a paramedic trained with advanced life-saving skills.
“It’s a vast difference in level of care, so we are able to push cardiac drugs, intubate. We are able to do needle decompressions and just a more advanced scope of practice.,” says Laszloffy.
It comes at a time when Billings firefighters are busier than ever. Last year, the department responded to more than 18,000 calls.
“It’s gotten more intense and more calls. And with the population growth we have seen, just a boom in all kinds of calls,” says Capt. Adam Tipton, who is beginning his 18th year with the department.
Most of the calls that the fire department responds to are medical and don’t involve a fire.
“Seventy-five to 80 percent are just classified as medical in nature, and that’s where this efficiency to really drill down, if you will, to really get to the meat of using the right tool for the right job the best we can,” says Cameron McCamley, another veteran of the department.
In the past, an engine was rolled out on every single call, whether it was a fire or not.
You can see the difference the MRT program is already making in the graph below.
In the four weeks before the program started, an engine from another station had to be called to cover the Heights 21 percent of the time. In the four weeks since the program started, that engine has only had to roll on 30 percent of calls—with another station’s engine coming in just 11 percent of the time to cover. The mobile response team has picked up the majority of calls—59 percent.
McCamley says that not only keeps the Heights better protected, but all of Billings by multiplying the force.
“We are not pulling other units from downtown or other areas and leaving those areas open where now we are having significant response times,” he says.
A second MRT vehicle is expected to go into service by the end of this year.