Volunteer departments addressing ambulance services in southern Lancaster County

Hickman Fire adds second ambulance; Bennet begins process to add its first
Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 3:47 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 25, 2021 at 7:32 AM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - October 11th, 2021, a day that marks a historic moment for Bennet Volunteer Fire and Rescue.

That’s the day the department voted to start to process of purchasing the first ambulance in their history.

“Our community is not shrinking,” said Bennet Fire Chief Tim Norris. “It’s growing, and we want to be able to provide the service that we can for it. If we can get on the road sooner, that means [the patient] get the care that they need sooner.”

When it comes to adding an ambulance in Bennet, time is one of the biggest factors for the immense support from community members and volunteers. Currently, the department has an automatic mutual aid agreement with Lincoln Fire & Rescue, meaning a medic unit from LFR is always on the way whenever Bennet gets a call for service. However, that doesn’t mean the closest LFR station with an ambulance is on the way.

“One of our members said during the public hearing that, sometimes, it’s 20 minutes or more before the ambulance shows up here,” Chief Norris said. “If that person is ready to be packaged and go, maybe we’re only on the scene five minutes, and we can meet ALS (LFR) or we can get to the hospital in that 20 minutes.”

With the community in mind, Bennet is looking to take a smart approach when it comes to the increased workload with medical calls they’re sent to.

“Between our medical director and our staff, we’ll determine which calls do we think we can handle on our own without having an automatic ALS service coming,” Norris said.

In addition, he hopes that an ambulance in Bennet will be an incentive to bring on more volunteers who posses the skills the department is looking for.

“We’re hoping that it’s also gonna be a way to attract some new people,” Norris said. “I mean there are people who assume we have an ambulance, but when they find out that we do have one, we’re hoping that there will be other people that will want to be involved and give their medical skills.”

Bennet’s ambulance has an estimated cost of $235,000, with an annual operating cost of $8,000. There’s also additional costs that will come with the purchase, including the necessary equipment to go onboard. Chief Norris says it’ll be anywhere from 15 to 18 months before their new ambulance will be ready to go. Once it is, it will be another medical transport resource for residents in southeastern and southern Lancaster County.

“Palmyra; they have an ambulance. Eagle has two ambulances. Southeast has two ambulances. Hickman now has two ambulances,” Norris said.

“What an ambulance service does for the Hickman Fire Department is provide faster, higher care for our patients,” Fire Chief John Brady told 10/11 NOW.

Brady, also a deputy with the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, says Hickman was looking to do the exact same thing a couple years ago as what Bennet’s addressing now: cut down the time it takes to transport a patient to a Lincoln hospital, and serve the residents in their district even better.

Just before the pandemic began, in early 2020, Hickman started their first ambulance service.

“Once we got the ambulance, it ran like crazy,” Brady said. “We made just several several calls for service; we’ve taken that ambulance to Lincoln many many times. I think we proved ten-fold that a transport service for the Hickman Fire and Rescue Department was vital.”

As the two-year pilot program was coming to a close, Brady says it was obvious what needed to happen next.

“Once we did that, we were able to convince the [Rural Fire] board that a new ambulance is obviously part of the process, so that way we can continue to grow towards the future.”

One of the biggest aspects of that future, for both Hickman and Bennet, is the Lincoln South Beltway.

“You know with the Beltway, you see different types of emergencies, so it was actually a primary pusher to getting a new ambulance,” Brady said.

“I think the Beltway concerns us a little,” Norris said. “With more traffic, and the conditions we have out here in the country with ice and snow build-up, we anticipate we’re going to continue to have significant accidents.”

A map of rural fire districts in southern Lancaster County, and where the South Beltway will be...
A map of rural fire districts in southern Lancaster County, and where the South Beltway will be in correlation with those districts.(Lincoln Fire & Rescue (Dec. 2020))

In terms of coverage, Bennet will cover the east interchange of the Beltway, and points westward towards 82nd Street. From there, continuing to the west, all the way to the junction with Highway 2, it’s up to Hickman to respond to any calls for service along the Beltway. It’s a big task, but both departments say they have the appropriate personnel to be able to respond to calls in their area, no matter how busy things gets.

Both Norris and Brady say neighboring departments, like Southeast and Southwest Volunteer Fire & Rescue Departments, will also play a crucial role in any incident that requires more than one department.

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