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THREE MILE – When Colleen Schmiedeke swings open the door of the Three Mile Fire Department’s newest ambulance, you can feel her sense of pride in this small community that cares about its own.

“Our board doesn’t buy used,” she said. “It’s all new equipment that’s as fine as anything you would find in an ambulance elsewhere in the county.”

It’s been a quarter-century since the Three Mile Fire District decided it needed to own its ambulance to service the community on the east of the valley between Florence and Stevensville.

Back then, Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital didn’t have sustainable ambulance service operating in the area.

“They might not have known what they were getting into,” Schmiedeke said. “But they knew it was the right thing to do.”

Today, the district owns and operates two ambulances, including a brand-new vehicle purchased just last year.

“Our fire district has always been on board,” Schmiedeke said. “Today, about 80 percent of our calls are medical. The board makes sure that all the equipment is kept up-to-date.”

Like other Ravalli County ambulances, the Three Mile District also took advantage of an American Heart Association Mission:Lifeline Montana grant to acquire an EKG machine capable of transmitting real time heart monitoring information to local hospitals.

The grant was made possible by a $4.5 million gift from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

In September, the equipment helped save the life of a local man who requested the ambulance after feeling chest pain when he finished a ride on his exercise bike.

The Three Mile Fire District volunteers transmitted an EKG to the hospital within two minutes after they arrived on the scene. A ST-elevated myocardial infarction of STEMI heart was diagnosed and physicians at a cath lab in Missoula were notified.

In just 39 minutes from that first medical contact by the Three Mile volunteers, the man was fitted with the stint that may have saved his life.

In June, Schmiedeke said the district will obtain a Lucas chest compression system that will further improve their operation in addressing heart attacks.

The Three Mile Fire District ambulance crews have worked closely with Missoula Emergency Services for almost 20 years.

Most of their patients want to be transported into Missoula, she said. The Missoula Emergency Services ambulance crews will often meet them halfway.

“We have had a really good working relationship with them,” she said. “When people want to go to Marcus Daly, we take them there.”

Everyone who works on the Three Mile crew is a volunteer.

“During the daytime, we basically only have three people doing this,” she said. “Everyone else is working in Missoula or elsewhere.”

Of the 21 volunteers on the Three Mile Fire District, eight are certified as EMTs.

“It’s very difficult anymore to get people to volunteer,” Schmiedeke said. “We’re always looking for new people. They do have to be willing to respond when the call comes, no matter what the time. The volunteers we have are very dedicated.”

There are people who live in the Three Mile Fire District who really don’t understand just what they have.

“What I pay every year for fire protection is something like $50,” she said. “When you think about the equipment the district has invested in and the volunteers who are ready to go at all times of the day, it’s not much.”

“We are just really fortunate to have always had a fire district board that is proactive when it comes to community service,” Schmiedeke said. “And the district has always had a really good relationship with the community. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.”

Reporter Perry Backus can be reached at pbackus@ravallirepublic.com.

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