BAXTER — For those who live or spend time in west Brainerd, the comings and goings of North Memorial Health ambulances were once a familiar sight.
A recent move, however, means the ambulances are responding from a new direction and new digs. North Memorial Health Brainerd Region Ambulance moved March 1 from being housed in two buildings on the 200 block of Northwest Fifth Street in Brainerd to being in one expanded location off Industrial Park Road in Baxter.
The move will make the Brainerd ambulance service more effective and will not increase its response times, said Kevin Lee, manager of the Brainerd Region Ambulance office.
The 210 NW Fifth St. building was the original site of the Brainerd ambulance service, started by Terry Moberg in the late 1960s. North Memorial Health took it over from Moberg in 1987 and then tore down the building and built a new one in 1992.
“We eventually grew out of it,” Lee said of the building. “We ended up having to put our administrative offices across the street from the crew quarters and where the trucks were because there wasn't enough space. So we started looking for a situation where we could have everybody in the same building.
“By moving we got everybody under the same roof and we have the space for training and more room for our vehicles. ... Classroom space was a big thing, too. There wasn’t enough room to get everybody together to do training. Here we can have 30 people in the classroom without the COVID restrictions.”
Lee said the new classroom will be named after Gary Pearson, who worked for North Memorial Health from 1987 to 2013. Pearson was the manager at the Brainerd station through 2008.
The new ambulance site has more than 10,000 square feet, which North Memorial is leasing. The building was remodeled specifically for North Memorial in the Baxter Industrial Park — just south of the Minnesota Department of Transportation and north of the U.S. Post Office off College Road — with close proximity to Highway 371.
The building includes administration offices and living quarters for the ambulance crews. There is a common area including a kitchen and living area with a TV and recliners for when crews have a chance to relax between calls. There are four resting rooms for ambulance crew members where they have a bed for sleeping. There are two bathrooms and two showers, as well as a locker room.
Three crews are stationed during the daytime hours and two at night, with one crew on call for the Brainerd station alone. Each crew includes a paramedic and an emergency medical services technician.
The garage space is spacious to accommodate all the ambulance vehicles. The Brainerd Region station has eight ambulances to maintain. The site also has one full-time mechanic to keep them all running efficiently.
North Memorial Health runs four other ambulance sites in the lakes area with two ambulances at each station in Aitkin, Crosslake, Longville and Pine River. There are 72 crew members who work at one of the five stations in the lakes area.
Response times to medical calls shouldn’t increase, but improve, Lee said of the move. The Brainerd Region Ambulance responds to a lot of calls along the Highway 371 corridor between Brainerd to the north up to Nisswa.
“There are a lot of new developments in that area and at the same time we're still able to meet our goals,” Lee said of response times. “We have an 11-minute response time goal on 90% of the calls for the cities of Brainerd and Baxter and we're still able to meet those goals from (the Baxter location). As a matter of fact, we looked at March after we moved here, and our responses to calls in Brainerd was at 94%. So, as a matter of fact, there are parts of south Brainerd that we can get to quicker from here than we could from our old station because we can just go straight down College Road.”
Communications between the administration and the crews have improved in the new location.
“Before we'd have to either walk across the street to go meet with the crews, or they'd have to walk across the street to come to our office to meet with us so it was really not a very good situation in terms of communicating with each other,” Lee said.
Supervisor Matt Cordes of the Brainerd Region Ambulance agreed and said the biggest change he has found since the move to the Baxter site is communication.
“It has made the working relationships between crew members, supervisors and the manager a lot stronger,” Cordes said. “We're working together more and able to communicate a lot better versus being in two separate buildings so that has been the biggest change, and the most beneficial change.”