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Several emergency medical responders and the squad leader of the Esmond Quick Response Unit with their response vehicle are, from left, Jason Smith, Robbie Rennock, Cortney Rennock, Shari Wilson, squad leader Cindy Wilhelm, Alysa Rice, Jayla Smith, Julie Grove and Brandon Grove. Submitted photo

Central North Dakota community rallies to replace ambulance service

ESMOND, N.D. — Because every minute is precious in a medical emergency, the Esmond community knew something needed to be done when its ambulance service almost ceased operating early last spring.

Faced with potentially waiting 45 minutes or more for a neighboring town's ambulance, community residents came together with a plan. Now they are nearly ready to launch the Esmond Community Quick Response Unit, staffed with certified emergency medical responders. Eight people have just finished an emergency medical response class.

Many of the responders are younger people, new to emergency medical response, including couples like Robbie and Cortney Rennock.

"Since our ambulance went out of service, a lot of calls where we have needed an ambulance have taken 45 minutes," said Robbie Rennock, also a member of the local fire department. "By then, most of the time, it's been too late. Now with training, we can get there earlier and maybe save more people and get them to the hospital and care that they need."

Esmond had an ambulance service for 40 years. The service discontinued because of inadequate numbers of emergency medical technicians and inability to keep someone on call at all times. The community had not been able to retain its numbers as members retired or moved away. Service to the district then had to come from Maddock, Rugby or Harvey.

Esmond's new Quick Response Unit now can respond with its rig but will not be transporting people. Responders will provide care such as stabilization, shock management, bleeding control and cardiac care until an ambulance service arrives. That basic service can be critical for someone facing a medical emergency.

"It's important for them, even if it's just somebody there holding their hand, talking to them, helping them to be calm. It helps to have somebody who can be there in five to 10 minutes, versus 45 minutes," Cortney Rennock said.

The unit expects to affiliate with Maddock's ambulance service as its primary response partner.

As squad leader, Cindy Wilhelm has been doing administrative duties, outreach, coordinating classes, writing grants and ordering supplies, all of which have been essential to getting the unit operating.

Wilhelm said she's pleased with the number of people who have stepped up to be part of the new unit. Eleven people so far are available for calls, and at least a couple more are interested in completing an online class to get certified starting in January.

Shari Wilson was one of those who took the recent training in Esmond.

"I do have a medical background. Because of that I have always wanted to help people," Wilson said. In a small town, when a medical emergency occurs, it might be a friend, neighbor or relative. That motivated her to get involved, she said.

The 40-hour emergency medical responder training is less involved than the 110-hour EMT training required to staff an ambulance service, but emergency medical responders still must refresh with additional training hours every two years. Unlike an ambulance service that is required to have EMTs on call, a Quick Response Unit does not place members on call. Its members respond as they are available.

Jayla Smith, who lives on a farm near Esmond, noted she can respond within minutes to an emergency in her area. If an emergency occurs in a remote location, responders like herself who know the area can find places that GPS might miss.

"We know our community. We know backroads to get places," she said.

All responders are equipped with jump bags containing needed medical supplies and oxygen tanks, so they may go directly to a call.

Along with their bags, five automatic external defibrillators were ordered and placed with responders throughout the service district, Wilhelm said. The placements will enable responders to go directly to a scene rather than coming into Esmond for equipment. AEDs already are in several public buildings and businesses in Esmond.

Esmond is about 90 miles east of Minot.