Montana Coal Board awards $97K for new ‘ER on wheels’

Thursday, January 9, 2020
Montana Coal Board awards $97K for new ‘ER on wheels’

Photo by Rusty LaFrance

Daniel O’Banion, director of the Big Horn County ambulance service demonstrates the new extractor.

Two grants worth over $97,000 from the Montana Coal Board have helped fund a new “ER on wheels” said Daniel O’Banion, director of the Big Horn County Ambulance Service.

“The ambulance is making the shift from medical transport to an emergency room on wheels,” O’Banion said.

But since the county ambulance service provides services to such a large territory emergency medical providers are limited in their reach, therefore working smarter has become more and more important.

The new equipment, O’Banion said, will help to free up more emergency medical technicians to assist people in need.

One community development block grant for $25,370 is earmarked to purchase a new extractor and the other $72,000 grant is for updated stretchers. The new eqipment will make emergency medical services far more easy than traditional equipment.

O’Banion said a large portion of the grant has gone to update extricators, more commonly known as “the jaws of life.”

The older gas-powered extricator, which resembles an air compressor and weighs about 200 pounds, requires two people to transport it from the ambulance to the site of an incident. As a gas powered tool, those types of extractors could prove dangerous for people on the scene, especially if there is a vehicle fire.

O’Banion said the new tool will make things exponentially easier for emergency responders.

"There is almost nothing that it cannot cut through,” he added.

This updated piece of equipment will help counteract a problem that is becoming more frequent during the scene of a crash. According to O’Banion, as the design of vehicles shifts toward keeping the passengers inside the chances of needing to "cut" patients out of the wreckage rises.

“If you are wearing a seatbelt, your chances of survival are far more increased than they are without one,” O’Banion said, but he added metal vehicle frames are also adapting and getting stronger, which is proving to be more and more difficult for older extractors.

When someone needs medical attention time is of the essence. The new extricator is battery-powered, cordless and handheld. It can be operated by one person, which frees more hands to attend to patients.

“We can make any car a convertible in about 20 minutes,” O’Banion laughed, explaining on how the new extricator can cut through virtually any metal. In addition to the extractors, the coal board grant will also provide each ambulance with updated reinforced stretcher systems that will cause less strain on emergency medical personnel who load patients in and out of ambulances.

“This is where most EMT injuries come from, when a patient is being lifted into the ambulance,” O’Banion said.

The automated stretchers use a hydraulic-lift system and can transport up to 600 pounds.