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New Richmond ambulance overheats on way to Regions, Woodbury assists

A technician at RMF Auto Service in Hudson works on the radiator hose of a New Richmond Area Ambulance Service vehicle Friday, July 11. The ambulance broke down in Woodbury the previous day while transporting a patient to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minn. (Submitted photo)

A New Richmond ambulance en route to Regions Hospital Thursday night with a critical patient was disabled by an overheated engine near Woodbury, forcing the medics on board to evacuate the rig and wait for help from Woodbury Emergency Medical Services to finish the run.

A New Richmond medic radioed St. Croix County Dispatch at 6:43 p.m., Thursday, July 10 that they were pulling their ambulance to the shoulder near Century Avenue on Interstate 94 because of a possible fire in the engine compartment.

Two minutes later, the crew reported that the rig was disabled and the cabin had filled with smoke. They’d evacuated the rig and they needed assistance from Woodbury personnel to continue transporting their ventilator-dependent patient.

Woodbury Fire Department personnel also responded, and at 6:52 p.m., the medic reported that the possible fire was out and they were requesting a wrecker from Jerry’s Towing to pull the disabled rig back to RMF Auto Service in Hudson.

A spokesman at RMF said an upper radiator hose in the 2004 Ford truck failed, expelling the coolant and causing a cloud of steam. Repairs were completed Friday afternoon.

A Woodbury ambulance completed the patient transport to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minn.

Matt Melby, director of NRAAS and a paramedic himself, said his members don’t explicitly train for such emergencies but said paramedic Chris Aldee and EMT Jenny Ledo, who was driving when the hose burst, did everything right.

Ledo immediately helped a front-seat passenger — the patient’s spouse — from the rig while Aldee opened the rear doors and quickly unloaded the stretcher-borne patient. The portable ventilator continued to operate on battery power.

“The crew did an exceptional job under frightening circumstances,” Melby said, praising their calm, decisive action to exit the rig immediately while maintaining patient care and calling Woodbury to assist.

“We have not had a situation like this occur for many, many years (but) apparently it was our number and it came up,” said Melby.

New Richmond EMTs and medics typically make three to five such trips to Twin Cities hospitals each week — fewer than many area services — but in answering 911 calls regularly, the trucks are “rode hard and put away wet,” Melby quipped.

The 10-year-old truck has about 145,000 miles on the odometer. Melby said the service ideally tries to replace ambulances after 10 years but with reimbursements having declined over the years, that’s become challenging.

“We’ve pushed it back to more like 15 years or older,” he said.

Finding the money to replace an aging ambulance is challenging.

“It’s tough. Everyone needs something in emergency services,” Melby said.

A new ambulance would likely cost about $180,000.

The service’s website says the New Richmond Area Ambulance Service has two other ambulances with the primary being a 2009 Chevrolet, and another secondary rig being a 1999 Ford. An older fourth unit — a Ford Econo Van — is used primarily at Cedar Lake Speedway.

Steve Dzubay

Steve Dzubay has been publisher at the River Falls Journal and Hudson Star Observer from 1995-2016. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. He previously worked as a reporter-photographer at small daily newspapers in Minnesota and is past editor of the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal.