North Dakota Ambulance Service Meets Oil Boom Challenge

Killdeer Area Ambulance Service becomes center of attraction in community


LAUREN DONOVAN, Bismarck Tribune | | Thursday, April 24, 2014

KILLDEER - A new building in Killdeer is the go-to place for people who deal all too often with death and sorrow.

This could be depressing, even morose. In fact, it's just the opposite. The new Killdeer Area Ambulance Service building is filled with sunshine, the hubbub of people taking CPR lessons, lively conversation and the rich smells of lasagna being served for lunch.

It is the go-to place, and a small dedicated woman is the go-to person at the center of it all.

Ann Hafner is manager of the service and even she finds it hard to believe that not much more than a year ago, this vibrant responder community was on its last legs, on the verge of losing its license and shutting down for lack of people resources.

Killdeer is one of the main cogs in the oil boom wheel and sometimes with rigs, wells and thousands working, it's a wheel of fortune and misfortune.

Ambulance call numbers kept going up and up until today, the responders and volunteers handle an average of one call a day six times more than when the oil wheel started turning back in 2006.

Carie Boster, who directs the Dunn County Jobs Development Authority, said faced with being run over, or standing tall, the ambulance board decided to bring in good advice, hire a manager and staff to provide a professional atmosphere and become a vibrant part of the community.

The good results are indisputable. The Killdeer ambulance crew was recently awarded the 2014 State EMS Service of the Year and the Southwest Region EMS Service of the Year and members received the Regional Siren Award and the Regional Rising Star Award.

"For this to happen for little Killdeer, we're just so proud," Hafner said.

Hafner believes volunteers are the soul of the ambulance service, though it's buttressed by two each full-time paramedics and emergency medical technicians.

"You've got to have volunteers. They're the community. It has to be the people, or otherwise it won't work," she said. "A rural service, it's a family."

This is a family that does the hardest work, rushing to the ill, the injured, the dying and the dead.

Hafner is proud of the six teenagers who are taking emergency response courses, including Nichole Hanzel, 17, a Killdeer High School junior, an ambulance volunteer who is going through steps to become a certified emergency medical technician.

"It's a great opportunity," Hanzel said. "Sometimes it does get scary, but it's drilled into your brain so you don't panic. I love it."

Hanzel received the Rising Star award and Hafner hopes she uses her training all her life.

Then, there's Ryan Hauck, a responder who drives the Dunn County road grader for his daytime job. A call went out, and since Hauck was closest he went to the scene and performed CPR until the ambulance crew arrived.

"How can you not love someone who responds in his road grader?" Hafner said.

Hauck received the Siren Award, for going above and beyond the call of duty.

Meeting needs

Hafner said the service has come a long way, but she is still concerned about people who live too far from an ambulance for comfort.

She's heard too many stories of people who, only because of distance, not dedicated staff, don't get help in time.

"If it's a heart attack, you just don't survive when it takes the ambulance 45 minutes to get there. Nobody should die because nobody can get there," she said.

To counter that, she started response training classes for people from Grassy Butte and Mandaree, towns that don't have a service and are a long ways from towns that do.

Danna Nechipor-enko of rural Grassy Butte said the training is fantastic and she's hopeful that this is the seed that will sprout a possible ambulance service in the town's future.

"It really hits home, when the fire phone goes off and it's an accident and you can't do anything," she said.

Hafner said the training is the first step, so there are people out there with some equipment and know-how to start the lifesaving process.

"We need to start somewhere. We need to open the door," she said.

(Reach Lauren Donovan at 701-220-5511 or

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