LAWTON – Back in the 1960s, the local funeral director could operate an ambulance service with the help of a couple of high school students. Not anymore.
Running an emergency medical service today requires highly trained medical professionals and vehicles equipped with expensive gear, Kirk’s EMS Director Bruce Crowell related.
A modern ambulance costs about $130,000, not including the supplies and electronics, manpower and insurance, said Hershel Kuykendall, chief operating officer of Kirk’s EMS and grandson of the founder. The Lawton company has two Type II van-style ambulances and six Type III ambulances which have a square compartment for transporting patients.
For licensure, an emergency medical technician (EMT) needs 216 hours of classroom education and 36 hours of clinical training in an emergency room and/or in an ambulance. Tuition and books for an employee’s basic training cost the company about $8,000, Kuykendall said.
An advanced EMT needs 180 hours of classroom coursework and 140 hours of clinical training.
Licensure for a paramedic requires 1,322 hours of classroom education and 392 hours of clinical training. None of those hours are overlapping, which means an EMT must undergo 1,718 hours of classroom course work plus 568 hours of clinical training.
And that’s followed by continuing education. Every two years an EMT is required to get 24 hours of continuing ed, and advanced EMT needs 36 hours, and a paramedic must undergo 48 hours of continuing ed every other year.
In addition, “Our medical director has to complete 16 hours of skills training every year,” Kuykendall said.
There’s also the Oklahoma trauma educational program (8 hours every two years), traffic management system training (4 hours every two years), a pediatric life support course, and emergency vehicle operations training (16 hours initially plus 8 hours every year afterward).
“Our folks are continuously in training or running on calls,” Crowell said. Kirk’s EMS, which was founded in 1972 by the late Kirk Kuykendall, has a staff of between 57 and 65 but averages “about 60” employees, Hershel Kuykendall said.
KIRK'S EMS ANSWERS THOUSANDS OF CALLS
“When we get a call for service, we have to respond,” Crowell said. Kirk’s primarily covers Comanche County but is not locked into rigid boundaries. On at least one occasion Kirk’s EMS answered a call at Grandfield, 40 miles southwest of Lawton in Tillman County.
Besides the typical medical calls (heart attacks and falls) and traffic accidents, Kirk’s also lends a hand in national disaster relief efforts, such as the hurricanes that have struck Houston, Florida and Louisiana.
Kirk’s EMS responded to 12,410 calls last year, an average of 34 each day, said Michelle Gipson, director of dispatch operations. In 2018 the company answered 10,117 calls, an average of 27.7 per day, she said.
To date this year the company has answered approximately 10,700 calls, and expects to respond to about 11,500 calls by year’s end, Gipson said. And that’s despite the coronavirus, “which shut down Lawton in April, May and June, and most folks stayed at home,” said Crowell. Business dropped 46% during those three months, Kuykendall said.
STATE HEALTH DEPT. TRACK DATA ON RESPONSE TIMES
Kirk’s “out of the chute” time – from the moment a call is received until an ambulance is staffed and leaving the station – was an average of 1.61 minutes on 37,604 calls, records reflect.
Pottawatomie County was the worst in the state, at an average out of the chute time of 10.8 minutes; Cimarron County’s average time was 6.1 minutes; Washita County’s, 5.9 minutes; and Dewey County’s, 5.7 minutes.
Kirk’s EMS average time to the scene last year was 6.82 minutes on 37,604 calls.
The average time to the scene in Choctaw County last year was 10.5 minutes; more than 11 minutes in Le-Flore, Lincoln, Okfuskee and Sequoyah counties; almost 12 minutes in Mayes County; 12.8 minutes in Hughes County; 13.3 minutes in Pushmataha County and 13.8 minutes in Haskell County; and 15.1 minutes in Roger Mills County.