The Three Forks Area Ambulance was formed in 1991 as a district that serves about 550 square miles. The Ambulance Service is an IRS 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization. All donations are tax deductible.
We have three ambulances that are in full service at any given time. The station is located at the corner of Main and Hickory in Three Forks.
Who We Are
The ambulance service is made up of local community volunteers. All of our volunteers are professionally licensed by the State of Montana and many are members of national organizations. Our members all live in the Three Forks, Willow Creek and Clarkston areas or close by…
Our membership usually hovers around 20 or so volunteers. Half of these volunteers are generally able to run calls locally – the other members cover our outlying areas and can provide rapid emergency response to those areas that may take the ambulance 45 minutes or more to travel to the scene.
Many of our volunteers have dual roles as EMTs, they provide emergency response for the companies that operate in our area. Some of our volunteers are also members of the Three Forks Fire Department, Willow Creek Fire Department and Clarkston Fire Department.
The History of Three Forks Area Ambulance
As Told by Bill Frank, chairman TFAASD
There had not been an ambulance service stationed in Three Forks since the 1960’s. The town of Three Forks was serviced by the Bozeman ambulance service that was privately owned. In June of 1981, the then current owner of the Bozeman ambulance service: Cliff Halls, was given an additional stipend to base an ambulance in Three Forks. For most of the summer of 1981, about 30 students learned Advanced First Aid and ambulance protocol. At the end of August, the students took over the ambulance and ran calls for 10 years. They volunteered their time to be on call, but were paid a small stipend for going on a call.
Sometime during the 10 years, another ambulance service based out of Belgrade was started. They were called Contract Firefighters. They demanded to be on a call rotation and receive a stipend from Gallatin County. The end result was that Contract Firefighters was a “Fly-by-Night” outfit and left owing money to several businesses. It also affected Halls Emergency, because Gallatin County rescinded the stipend given to Halls. Cliff Halls also began to expand his business; taking over the Livingston ambulance service, starting a wheelchair business and home oxygen delivery. During the next few years, Halls Emergency struggled with financial issues, personnel issues and lack of solid leadership.
This affected the Three Forks people because Cliff Halls would come to ambulance meetings and complain to the crew and threaten to take the ambulance out of Three Forks. Halls paid a $300.00 stipend a year to the Three Forks Fire Department for housing the ambulance. Also, during this time was a lot of personnel problems with the Three Forks staff. What started out as about 30 people in 1981, dwindled down to 8-15 people 10 years later. There was no training, just Advanced First Aid every 3 years. There was only 1 EMT, and he would not train anyone else to the standards. People were fighting and refusing to go on calls with other people.
Bill Frank, who had worked for Halls Emergency from 1979-1982, went to Cliff Halls and explained the situation in Three Forks. Cliff’s answer was the same thing happening in Livingston. He was willing to help, but did not quite know what to do. He agreed to come to a meeting the following week. When the meeting day arrived, everyone was at the fire hall. The tension was very strong, no one would talk to each other. Cliff Halls did not show up. Bill called and Cliff agreed to come the following week.
Cliff made that meeting. Instead of being positive, he told the crew that he was finished with Three Forks and would pull the ambulance. He told the crew that he would set up a Quick Response Unit and the ambulance would come from Bozeman. He thanked the crew and walked out. Needless to say, the crew was stunned. Nobody talked, nobody knew what to do. The reason given, was financially it was bad for Halls and the fact that personnel didn’t get along was more than he could take. The next morning, Bill Frank went to Bozeman and talked to Cliff. Bill asked if it was feasible for Three Forks to buy an ambulance and operate it. He agreed.
The Three Forks problem was that the community had just raised funds to buy the Three Forks Clinic to try and get a Physician’s Assistant. The ambulance wasn’t sure if that would hurt. We also went to the City Council, to see if they would take over the ambulance. They would not, nor give any funds.
Bill went back to the Three Forks crew and asked them what they wanted to do. They were all in agreement that buying an ambulance would be a good idea, but no one wanted to take charge. A month went by before anything happened. Bill and Nancy Anderson had a meeting out on the street to discuss the matter. We ended up going to the Cut-Rate grocery store to talk to Betty Wilcox. Both Betty and Nancy were ambulance crew members. Betty was on leave because she had foot problems. Bill and Nancy talked Betty into helping, if Bill agreed to be in charge. We then called a meeting of the crew and asked everyone to help. The interesting thing about Three Forks was that as much as people disliked each other, they were willing to be a part of the ambulance service to help others. Also during this time several members joined the fire department which caused a problem for the firemen.
By the beginning of September, through donations, a spaghetti dinner, the ambulance was able to raise over $30,000.00. They needed $8500 to buy the vehicle, a 1974 Type I and supplies. The ambulance had enough money to put a new motor in the vehicle. Around October 1st, 1991, the ambulance service bought the ambulance and supplies. The name of the service was Three Forks Area Ambulance Association. The day of the purchase, the first call was a DOA, which we never got paid for.
At one of the meetings, Dave Miller, an accountant who worked a lot for Gallatin County, told us about a new law that allowed ambulance service districts to form. It would allow up to 3 or 4 mills to be levied like a fire department. He helped set up the boundaries and the petitions to get approval. Richard Wilcox, who was active on several boards, also became involved. It took 9 months, but finally an Interlocal Agreement between Gallatin County and the City of Three Forks created the Three Forks Area Ambulance Service District.
Up to this point, Bill Frank and Betty Wilcox were running the business part of the ambulance service. When the Interlocal Agreement was signed, it provided for a Board of Directors to be in charge of the business and have final say in crew policies. The original Board members were: Richard Wilcox, chairman representing the city of Three Forks, Judy Hecker, vice-chairman representing the ambulance crew, Ralph Wilcox representing rural Three Forks through the Madison Valley, Fuss Damuth representing the Logan-Clarkston area, and Mary Miller, representing Willow Creek. Mary is the only board member still serving. Bill Frank was appointed as advisor to the board. Betty Wilcox was appointed Clerk to the board. After one year, Richard Wilcox resigned from the board and Bill Frank was appointed to fill out his term. Bill, then became Chairman of the Board. The board’s function was to over-see the crew and set rules for them to follow. The board was also in charge of the financial well-being of the ambulance service.
In October of 1993, A demo Type II ambulance was purchased. It had barely been used and was shown at the MEMSA conference in Billings. Cliff Halls was upset because it was nicer than the ambulances he had. It also was a diesel engine, which was the way ambulances were going. The Type I ambulance was sold to the Fire Department for $500.00, the cost of the new tires. An agreement was also made that firemen would stop bad-mouthing the ambulance crew. Things got a little better between the two organizations.
In January of 1994, a new policy about patients being transported with an IV was established. No patient could be transported with an IV unless an IV certified attendant was with. Also, no live patient would be transported with a DOA patient. This came about because of a river accident. Interest began toward First Responder Ambulance classes. The Red Cross was phasing out the Advanced First Aid certificate. Eventually a First Responder class was started with a bridge course to EMT. The class was taught by Rocky Mountain EMT’s. They would improve the level of care of the ambulance service.
In March of 1994, there was a problem with crew members responding to calls and how to use the radios. The board of directors signed and sent out a letter to all members about procedures and what was expected.
In October of 1994, all crew members passed their First Responder Ambulance test and were ready to bridge to EMT. By this time, Becky Thrush, Denice Nelson, Jeri Crowe and Bula Skolrud had become EMT’s on their own through their work. Three Forks Marshall, Hank Hecker was nominated and received the Mavity Award from MEMSA for law enforcement helping with EMS while on duty. It was presented to Hank at the annual MEMSA conference.
At the end of the year, the ambulance service bought a used one-man cot from Cliff Halls for $300.00. At the beginning of 1995, most of the FRA’s had finished the bridge class to EMT and tested in Great Falls. The service had about 10 EMT’s at that time. The people from Rocky Mountain EMT, namely Bill and Jessica Inabnit, decided to join the Three Forks Ambulance. They lived in Manhattan, but were willing to come take calls. Jessica was an EMT I, which could give IV’s. The ambulance service went from a Basic service to Advanced service. Jeri Crowe and David Udey would eventually also become EMT I’s. The ambulance service also helped set up a Quick Response Unit in Clarkston.
In June of 1995, the ambulance purchased a pulse-oximeter, new type backboards and began talking about defibrillators. The pulse-ox was illegal until EMT’s became certified and the defib also needed certification. In September, one of the ER nurses came to Three Forks to give the class. We became EMT-D’s. The ambulance purchased a Lifepak 12.
In November of 1995, the ambulance serviced began to turn over default accounts to the Credit Bureau of Bozeman. Although the default amount was only less than 10%, anything that would help get money was a good thing.
In August of 1996, the Ambulance Board had to deal with a conflict between two EMT’s. Each person was given time to discuss the incident, in private, before the Board. The Board rendered a decision about the incident and that was the end of it. The Board acted very professionally and took charge of the problem.
In September of 1996, the ambulance board discussed allowing one free medical ride for each crew member or their immediate family and board membes. If they had insurance, the company would be billed, but no out-of-pocket expenses would occur to the crew member or board member.
At the end of the year, the board talked about purchasing a second ambulance and a Stryker cot. The cot purchased from Cliff Halls, broke and needed to be replaced. After two incidents where the van ambulance got stuck in the snow, it was decided to purchase a 1989 4X4 ambulance. This was to be a second ambulance. It was advertised with only 33,000 miles, but was closer to 133.000 miles. It worked okay, just not very fast on the highway. The four-wheel drive was used a few times.
In May of 1997, a second cellphone was purchased for the ambulance. Up until that time, the cellphone was shifted between ambulances. Also the ambulance service began to pay the city of Three Forks rent for parking in the Fire Hall. It started out as a “donation” to the city, but eventually became required.
In the Fall of 1997, discussions about annexing Manhattan to the Ambulance District. After a discussion with the Gallatin County Attorney, it was decided to table the annexation. Bill Frank resigned as chairman of the board, but stayed on as a board member. There was a discussion about paying attendants for going on calls. On advice of the accountant, the ambulance service did not make enough money to pay attendants. The ambulance service also would loose it’s non-profit statis. In December, Gayle Ross was appointed to the board and Bill Frank was made special advisor.
In May of 1998, discussions were started about building an ambulance barn east of the Fire Hall. The city was approached about donating the land. By October, the lease with the City was signed and Double D Enterprise won the contract to build the barn.
In December of 1998, the role of Medical Control and Medical Director was discussed. Up to that point, the PA at the Three Rivers Clinic had been Medical Control. State law required more input from Medical Control. The Emergency room physician became Medical Control. Medical Control started requiring all ambulance attendants to become basic EMT’s. The transition period was not clearly stated, so there was much confusion about this requirement. After a discussion with the ER Nurse; Vickie, the ambulance service was given a year to transition to EMT’s from First Responder Ambulance.
1999, brought Bill Frank voted back to the ambulance board and elected Chairman. Since the clerk, Betty Wilcox was getting older, it was decided to have a part-time clerk help out. Jennifer Rice, (Betty’s granddaughter) started to help out. David Udey, who was chairman of the board, was appointed as an advisor. In March, discussion about getting a cascade system for oxygen was discussed and purchased.
In February of 2000, ER nurse; Vickie, came to Three Forks during a training session and discussed relations with the hospital. No one in an official or un-official capacity should “bad-mouth” the hospital. She also asked for a monthly accounting of calls be sent to her. A new policy about half of the training hours for recertification be done “In-house”.
In April, a new incentive program started earning points for coming to meetings, going on calls and helping around the barn. Those points were given a monetary value which could be used for different things. In June, the ambulance service became a member of the Three Forks Chamber of Commerce.
In 2001, there began a lot of talk about visitors from back East following the Lewis and Clark trail. It was brought up at Fire Council that between 2003 and 2006, our area could see an increase of 10,000 to 30,000 people a year on this journey. Every department was encouraged to be prepared and invest in as much equipment as possible. The Wheeled Coach saleman was also talking to us about investing in a new ambulance. By June of 2001, we purchased a 2000 Wheeled Coach ambulance without trade, so we could have three ambulances.
In October of 2001, we had been donated an AED from a fundraiser at one of the bars. We were able to get another Stryker cot and we celebrated our 10th anniversary as an ambulance service.
In February of 2002, Willow Creek Fire Department had a fundraiser to help equip the four-wheel drive ambulance that was now stationed in Willow Creek.
In 2003, all Medicare and Blue Cross/Blue Shield charges were sent through the Internet.
In the Fall of 2004, there was a potential lawsuit filed against 3 members of the ambulance service. They had to testify in Helena at the Board of Medical Examiners. All charges against them were dropped.
A new policy was put into place that crew members must go on 10% of the calls to have their conference fees paid in full. In December of 2004, Richard and Betty Wilcox retired from the ambulance service. Richard had been an advisor and one time chairman of the board and Betty was the clerk.
In January of 2005, Becky Arbuckle took over as clerk of the ambulance district. She was also crew president, that later became crew supervisor. There was discussion about taxing the ambulance district because of the growth in Three Forks. There was also discussion about replacing the van ambulance.
In May of 2005, Becky wrote a grant for a new 4X4 ambulance. It took a while, but that did not come to happen. In September, the van was sold on Ambulance Trader and the service purchased the 2002 Wheeled Coach ambulance.
For many years, since the Cliff Halls’ days, there had been discussions and trials about having paramedic intercepts. The hospital was pushing this for better patient care, but didn’t understand or care about the business aspects. For a lot of the time, Three Forks had to take their patient and put them in the other ambulance. Finally, AMR, with help from the ER, agreed to ride in the Three Forks Ambulance. In September of 2005, a trial agreement was made with AMR. Three Forks would pay a nominal sum of $130.00 for a paramedic to ride in the ambulance. It didn’t matter whether the paramedic did anything or not.
Through the Fire Council, a County Wide Mutual Aid agreement was established that made clear what each department was to send in case of a major emergency. This was signed in December of 2005.
In April of 2006, the ambulance service purchased a second Lifepak 12 defebrillator.
Towards the end of 2006, discussions were held about our tax exempt status. Specifically, that we needed a 401 C 3 number. That would give us the ability to receive money from big donors. In July of 2007, the Three Rivers Health Care Association came to the ambulance service to take over their job. The clinic was an independent business and there was no reason for the Association to continue. They had some money and more importantly, a 401 C 3 number that we could use. The merger wasn’t complete until May of 2009.
At MEMSA in 2007, crew members saw a 1998 Wheeled Coach ambulance. After a test drive, the ambulance was bought on the spot, with the 1989 4X4 traded in.
In November of 2009, a discussion about trading in the 1998 was had. There were some electrical issues and low head room in the back. A 2008 Wheeled Coach was purchased without trade. The 1998 was traded straight across for a Stryker power cot.
In September of 2010, early talks about a combined police and ambulance station were held. By March of 2011, talks were started about the land next to the library. In August of 2011, initial building plans and a construction manager were started. Talks between the LDS Church in Salt Lake City and Three Forks occurred in July of 2012, about what constituted a public entity. There was a clause in the original contract that stated the Library Board could not sell any of the land for 25 years. They could sell it to the city or the fire department or public entity. The words “ambulance service” were added and deal moved forward.
Also in July of 2012, Summit Air Ambulance started business and became a part of the pre-hospital care. The hospital also requested that AMR be paged simultaneously with Three Forks on major incidents and illnesses. In November, the ambulance received a grant to buy a second Stryker power cot.
The deal to buy the land was reached in April of 2013. The money was in the ambulance bank account and paid off by July 1, 2014.
The cellphone contract with Verizon was cancelled when most crew members have their own phones and a phone in the ambulance was not needed. The contract for the modem remained in place.
An agreement was made with a private investor in January of 2014. The building foundation began in June and the building was finished in October. Fundraising ideas were sought to pay back the investor.
In the winter of 2015, the ambulance service received a grant to purchase a new Lifepak 15.
In March of 2015, Bill Frank resigned as chairman of the board and retired from the ambulance service!