BILLINGS - As he pulls out a big black bag from a fire engine at Station 5 and explains, “It’s a basic ER in a bag,” it doesn’t take long to figure out that 15-year Billings Fire Department engineer and paramedic Cameron McCamley loves his job.
And because Billings voters gave an overwhelming yes to a $7.1 million public safety mill levy, he’ll soon have a chance to focus on his number one professional passion.
One million of those dollars will go toward the fire department’s future medical mobile response teams.
McCamley will possibly join nine other Billings firefighters, four of whom will be roving the community in two vehicles responding to medical calls during peak hours, seven days a week.
“We can send a unit with people who are essentially clinicians who can go out and we can spend the time talking with that person finding whether it's resources, giving them full medical evaluation,” said McCamley.
Billings Fire Chief Pepper Valdez said after hiring a new assistant EMS Chief, it will take 12 to 15 months to get the program going, but in the meantime, the Billings crew is already diving in to complete some credentialing.
“We're doing some trial runs out there,” said Valdez. “There'll be some rigs out there that people will see. They look like they're smaller, kind of like a brush rig."
The chief said the trial runs will start in the next couple weeks, so when it does come time to implement the MRT’s the department “can hit the ground running.”
Although this concept is new for Billings, other fire teams across the country have similar medical response units.
Final details will include what type of vehicles the teams will drive. Valdez said those options include a half-ton pickup, an SUV or even a box-style van.
The chief stressed that the city needs to plan for the future of medical response.
“Covid did shut down a lot of the paramedic schools across the country, and then people were just mentally drained from the COVID-type calls. So we're seeing this major gap in our supply, our pipeline," he said.
The chief said the city is actively working on contingency plans. Just in case. “Not saying that that is going to be the case, but we have to be prepared. We do not want to be caught off guard,” Valdez said.
All Billings firefighters will be cross-trained. The additional teams will help free up time for further training in all fire crew duties and create reprieve.
"That gives you a little bit of a break to focus on other things besides just essentially running for 24 hours trying to catch your tail,” said McCamley.
On top of an increased level of service, the chief said he most looks forward to freeing up engine crews for other types of calls and decreasing response times with the engine companies.
“I feel that we’ve been good stewards with the taxpayer’s money, but I feel that we can do better,” said Valdez.
As for McCamley, he is very eager to be part of that.