New ambulance puts Ninilchik in fast lane

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2001

Ninilchik Emergency Services workers are seeing red and smiling about it. The object of their attention: a candy apple red ambulance.

Thanks to the combined effort of a number of individuals, including local volunteers, Central Emergency Services and the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Ninilchik has a brand new ambulance. Totaling $130,000, the 2001 Ford 450 turbo diesel vehicle was completely outfitted by Road Rescue to meet the emergency needs between Mileposts 119 and 141.5 of the Sterling Highway.

The trimmings, which added another $25,000 to the total cost, include four-wheel drive, automatic chains, heated mirrors, compartments that can be accessed from inside as well as outside the ambulance, extra insulation, a child seat and headroom enough for 6-feet-tall rescue captain Jerry Byrne to stand up without hitting his head. Byrne described the design as a "turn key" operation, meaning that as soon as it arrived on April 18, it was ready for use.

"It's like we're finally catching up with the turn of the century," said Ninilchik Emergency Services board president Dean Kvasnikoff, who remembered when the organization was formed more than 20 years ago. Taking a realistic approach, however, Kvasnikoff added, "At the same time, this isn't our only need. One of our next biggest needs is upgrading to first-class radios."

He used that same phrase -- "first class" -- to describe the team of volunteers that claims an average seven-minute response time.

"These are very, very dedicated people that want to take the time and effort to be a part of this organization," Kvasnikoff said. "A lot of people don't realize it's almost a full-time job. I'm thankful to a lot of dedicated people that want to be a part of this.

During 2000, the crew of three emergency medical technician IIIs, one EMT II, 7 EMT Is, and 1 emergency trauma technician completed 88 runs.

With summer around the corner, Ninilchik Emergency Services' new ambulance came just in time.

"We have less personnel in the summer due to the fishing industry and work commitments," said board vice president Wayne Taggart.

With the number of summer visitors to the area, demands are generally heavier on the volunteers.

"There's usually just a few of us here," said Sue Simonds, board treasurer, who is responsible for scheduling volunteers. However, Simonds has discovered that some of the volunteers are asking for additional hours during the upcoming months.

"Morale is up," Simonds said, crediting the arrival of the ambulance and other equipment the organization has received lately.

"The first call, we'll probably have 10 EMTs respond," Taggart laughed.

Streamlining scheduling, data gathering and billing, Ninilchik Emergency Services recently purchased a new database program for its computer, EMS 2000. Self-taught, Simonds is able to retrieve data that helps the organization schedule and train to improve its response capabilities. The first area group to install the program, its lead has since been followed by CES and other peninsula emergency response teams.

Besides radios, what else does the organization need?

"More volunteers," said EMT Ruth Taggart.

The next EMT training is scheduled for September. In the meantime, however, there's the upcoming annual Memorial Day pancake breakfast, one of Ninilchik Emergency Services' biggest fund-raising activities. Rather than one coordinator, this year a five-member committee is planning the ham, sausage and pancake breakfast held at the Ninilchik fairgrounds. Raffle tickets for one of Ruth Taggart's handmade quilts will go on sale soon.

Targeting the hungry crowd of fishers that lines the banks of Ninilchik River and Deep Creek over that weekend, Simonds promised, "This year's breakfast should be really good."

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