About 181 miles outside of Denver is the town of Hayden, Colo. Although Hayden is a small town with a population of just over 1,700, its volunteer fire and EMS agency serves the entire county of West Routte. Appropriately called West Routt Fire Protection District, the group of volunteer providers watches over a total population of about 2,200 spread across 600 square miles.
A Brief History
The West Routt Fire Protection District was formed in 1963. In 1981, the department became responsible for providing basic EMS in addition to fire suppression. The county transferred ownership of a 1981 Horton type 3 ambulance and a 1973 Chevy Suburban conversion ambulance. Prehospital care was initially provided by seven volunteer EMTs, and in 1993 three of these EMTs attended an EMT Intermediate (EMT-I) class in the neighboring town of Craig. At that time in Colorado, EMT-Is could provide advanced airway management with endotracheal intubation, obtain vascular access, interpret EKG tracings and administer many first-line medications. In 1999, the state of Colorado adopted the new national EMT Intermediate level (EMT-I / 99) and West Routt continued providing advanced-level care. Since the original EMT-Is were certified, there have been several EMT-I 99 courses taught at West Routt Fire Protection District allowing several more providers to increase their knowledge and scope of practice.
One of the most cherished traditions in the department includes the famous gun-slinging Looney Toon. Early in the department’s history, a picture of Yosemite Sam was drawn. It depicted him with bunker gear. Members liked the picture so much that to this day Yosemite Sam, holding a fire hose in one hand and the American flag in the other, rides along to all calls.
Chief Bryan Rickman is an EMT-I/99 and has been with the department for 38 years. Rickman is well known and respected in Colorado and frequently participates in many state EMS task forces and groups. Dale Leck, an EMT-I 99 with 21 years of service in the department, functions as the assistant chief. Together they oversee 22 volunteer members including five EMT-I 99s and five EMTs. In recent years, the chief and assistant chief have become paid positions.
The medical director, Laila Powers, MD, is board certified in emergency medicine and works as an emergency physician at the closest hospital, Yampa Valley Medical Center. She works closely with Rickman to assure the agency is able to provide the most current level of care and to ensure everyone involved in patient care is up-to-date with current standards of care and proficient in their practice. Volunteers attend monthly clinical education sessions, conferences and classes on topics such as advanced cardiac life support.
Total call volume for the district is about 400 per year with about 75% needing EMS response. The remaining calls include fires, smoke investigations and Hazmat events. The District also provides standby services for regional and local events at the fairgrounds located in Hayden.
The region is well known as an excellent location for deer and elk hunting. During designated hunting seasons the region’s population increases substantially with hunters ranging in experience. These visitors offer the district the opportunity to conduct rescue operations for hunters with fractures, cold emergencies and exacerbated underlying medical conditions.
The majority of patients take the 30-mile transport to Yampa Valley Medical Center in the neighboring town of Steamboat Springs. On the east side of Hayden is Yampa Valley Regional Airport. The airport receives frequent small commuter planes but also receives planes as large as Boeing 757s. The airport is also the landing point for medical aircraft landing to transport patients who need higher levels of care from Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, Colo., to specialty centers in Denver and Salt Lake City. West Routt Fire Protection District provides transportation for theses flight crews and patients.
EMS has its roots in volunteering. These are the providers who give their time unconditionally, often leaving their own families to care for others. The members of the West Routt Fire Protection District demonstrate this every day, be it responding to a call or doing a medical standby at a high school football game. The members take their roles as prehospital providers seriously and continually strive to be assets within their community.