What has 16 wheels and puts on 240,000 miles a year while saving lives? If you’re thinking a fleet of ice cream vending trucks, you may have been standing in the sun too long.
In truth, those are the miles racked up each year by the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Ambulance Service. There are actually eight vehicles in the fleet, according to Manager Rob Riley, but only four of them are rolling on any given day.
The other vehicles are for backup, or equipped with four-wheel drive for special needs, he explained.
Between them, they make about 7,400 runs a year, about 60 percent of which are in response to emergency situations. The rest are generally for transporting patients to or from other facilities, working the annual county fair and standing by at high school football games, Riley explained.
The service is owned by the hospital, and operates out of two stations, covering a wide territory ranging from the Bear River bridges on Highway 174 and Highway 49, to the Ponderosa overcrossing and Bear Valley on Highway 20, and up past the middle fork of the Yuba River beyond North San Juan. The ambulance stations are on Springhill Drive off Idaho-Maryland, and off Cherry Creek near Highway 49.
“It’s a huge territory,” Riley said. “But the bulk of our calls are in the greater Grass Valley/Nevada City area.”
“The ambulance service contracts with Nevada County to provide these services, and as part of the contract we must arrive at the scene within nine minutes to each call within city limits, 90 percent of the time,” Riley said.
“But we beat that time often,” Riley noted.
Riley knows that there are useful advantages to being part of the hospital.
“The best example of what’s good about that is that we are part of the links to continuous care, from the field right to the Emergency Department (ED),” he said. “We train with the ED staff, and know them on a first-name basis. That really helps when we hand off patients.”
Riley began his ambulance career in 1985 and joined the Sierra Nevada Ambulance Service three years later. He has managed the service since 2001. He entered ambulance service because he wanted to have a career where he was helping people.
“I think it was the desire to be of service, along with working outdoors in a job where every day is different,” he said. “My dad, now retired, was a firefighter with the Forest Service, and that was part of my inspiration.”
Riley oversees 20 full-time employees, along with 22 that work on a per diem basis. Half the employees are certified paramedics, and half emergency medical technicians. At least one paramedic staffs each ambulance.
“Paramedics require about 1,500 hours of intense training,” he said. “They have a higher level scope of practice that includes starting IVs, defibrillation, administering medications, doing heart assessments, and handling airway issues.”
They also must renew their state licenses every two years.
The SNMH ambulances respond to everything from minor concerns to major trauma situations like vehicle accidents with multiple injuries.
“We can manage any type of emergent trauma or medical situation,” Riley stated. “We are essentially a mini emergency room on wheels.”
Their emergency preparedness was put to the test about 10 years ago during the winter when his crews handled a Reno-bound bus on Highway 20 that crashed and left nearly 30 people injured.
Riley’s position continually challenges him, he said.
“We face a never-ending effort to produce the best services to our community. We take great pride in being there when you need us.”
All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.