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Cascade County emergency responders deal with high gas prices

Great Falls Emergency Services
Posted at 3:39 PM, Jun 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-16 17:39:50-04

GREAT FALLS — Unprecedented prices at the pump are having an impact on all of us. One sector hit particularly hard is emergency response agencies. In a crisis situation, the vehicles they count on still need to get where they’re going, no matter the distance.

“Our expenditures on fuel in May of 2022 just last month were 119% of what they were in May of 2021,” said Great Falls Emergency Services General Manager Justin Grohs.

Nationally, gas prices continue to rise and in Montana, the average price is headed in the five dollar a gallon direction.

That’s taking a financial toll on organizations like Great Falls Emergency Services, which not only provides local ambulance services, but covers a lot of ground transporting patients.

“We certainly do quite a bit of regional work as well as far helping get patients from say for example Northern Montana Hospital in Havre down to Great Falls,” said Grohs. “We travel through North Central Montana quite a bit executing these interfacility transfers.”

Grohs says GFES tends to budget high due to uncertainty in gas prices and they do get relatively low fixed rate reimbursements from the state and federal government. He says maintaining regular maintenance schedules on the fleet is important and some savings can be found by monitoring idle times.

“Typically, on an emergency call we do not shut the truck off,” said Grohs. “That wouldn’t really change but there’s other scenarios where we could perhaps not idle the truck, thereby using increased fuel.”

The higher prices have yet to affect the agency’s hiring initiatives or scheduling.

Across town at the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office, that might not be the case.

“It could mean that programs and things that we want to put in place to help better serve the community we might not be able to put in place,” said Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter. “It could mean that we projected out some extra positions, we may have to cut those or lose those positions. It could have effects on contracts for pay.”

Slaughter says the office remains dedicated to public safety. He says managing the department’s $21 million budget would be easier if he knew gas prices were going to level off.

“Let’s say gas last year was one point five million of that,” said Slaughter. “That means this year it could be five or six million. Well, the $21 million doesn’t expand.”

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