KILLDEER — Ann Hafner knew she wanted to become an ambulance volunteer after her sister-in-law, living in another state, died of an asthma attack when the ambulance responding to the call got lost en route.
“I didn’t want that to happen to anybody,” Hafner said.
Several years later, Hafner is living up to that goal as the manager of the Killdeer Area Ambulance Service.
However, she said it is becoming more difficult as the oil industry in the Bakken increasingly rears its booming head on the Killdeer landscape.
“It’s all coming this way,” Hafner said. “We have days when, ‘What’s going to happen next?’”
Thankfully for Hafner and the ambulance service, help is on the way in the form of a new ambulance, housing for its employees and the promise of a new hall.
Ambulance service officials gathered at the corner of Center Avenue and High Street on Thursday to break ground on the new hall, which is slated to be completed in early 2014, and show off its new ambulance and house where ambulance staff will stay.
“We’re excited,” said Tracey Dolezal, a Killdeer Ambulance District Board member and an EMT who has spent 20 years with the service. “With the growth and the change and all the oil development, it’s exciting. We’ve got to have the foresight to be prepared.”
Officials estimate the actual population of Dunn County is more than 4,000, which means the Killdeer Area Ambulance Service directly serves more than 3,000 people over 956 square miles — numbers that includes several oil rigs, crew camps and RV parks — while also assisting neighboring ambulance services such as Belfield, Dickinson, Halliday and McKenzie County on emergencies.
Not to mention the service covers an area Hafner called, “significant no-man’s land,” in the Badlands along the Maah Daah Hey Trail and in parts of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Likewise, Hafner said Killdeer has been dependent on other area ambulance services.
“We couldn’t make it if we didn’t have their help,” she said. “We’re pretty dependent on each other.”
However, with three just full-time employees and about 20 volunteers on the service’s active roster, there are still times when Killdeer’s emergency responders are stretched thin.
In 2006, the service responded to just 56 calls. That number had increased to 288 in 2012 — more than five times as many as six years prior and 22 percent of which were directly related to the oil industry. As of Thursday, the service had responded to 111 calls in 2013.
Daryl Dukart, president of Killdeer Ambulance District Board, said the service is on target to respond to about 350 calls this year, which he called “a tremendous amount of growth for what you would consider a rural ambulance.”
Having newer equipment helps, but with it must come changes.
The new ambulance, which cost about $150,000, is too big to fit into the existing ambulance hall the service shares with the West Dunn Fire District on Central Avenue.
Dukart said the new hall will cost around $850,000. More than $470,000 of the funding has been raised, donated or allocated.
Killdeer and Dunn County officials hope much of the rest comes from state oil-impact funds that are being apportioned through recent legislation designed to help fund counties in the Oil Patch.
Two new houses — one of which will house EMT Beth Grove and her family — were built for an estimated total of $260,000. The money that came from the Dunn County Job Development Authority, housing grant money and energy impact money from the 2011-13 biennium.
Hafner said the houses make it much easier for the ambulance service to hire and retain employees.
“We couldn’t hire people because there’s nowhere for them to go,” she said. “You can’t hire somebody that we could afford to pay and expect them to rent a house here for what the rents are.”
No matter how crazy Killdeer gets as the oil industry slowly seeps its way south into the Bakken, Hafner said the ambulance service is committed to performing its duties just as it has when the it began more than 50 years ago with five volunteers and a single station wagon ambulance.
“There’s still that core of good-old North Dakota ‘We can do this here,’” she said. “This is Killdeer. This the Frontier. This is the cowboys. There is that, ‘we can do this.’ There’s a lot of people who, no matter how bad it gets, will back you up and say, ‘OK, we can do this,’ and we can.”