Black River Falls Fire Department Emergency Medical Service Division is a combination, fire based BLS ambulance service owned and operated by the City of Black River Falls, WI.
We employ five full-time staff members and rely on 30 additional part time EMT’s, EMR’s and Drivers to staff our four ambulances.
Our service area covers 1,000 square miles serving over 20,000 residents living in the city of Black River Falls, the villages of Melrose, Taylor, Hixton, Alma Center, Merrillan, as well as 15 townships in Jackson County and two townships in Clark County. We cover 30 miles of I-94, 100 miles of snowmobile trails, and over 200 miles of ATV trails. On average, we respond to 1,800 calls per year which includes both 911 calls and interfacility transfers.
The EMS Division is proud to say we have been in service since 1972 and are 100% self-sufficient. We operate on use fees only and receive NO TAX DOLLARS! This is an amazing feat in today’s world where Medicare reimbursements are typically well below what it costs to provide the service.
BRF EMS History
The Black River Falls Fire Department (BRFFD) first got into the “rescue business” in 1969 with one rescue truck in its fleet. There wasn’t an ambulance. At that time, it was typical of funeral directors to also operate an ambulance service.
A number of BRF volunteer firefighters completed the 80 hour Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) course offered by the Wisconsin Health Department, and became the second rescue squad to become certified in the state of Wisconsin.
Records showed the original EMT class students graduating in February 1970 were Robert Amo, Arnold Ballew, Jerome Bjerke, Melvin Bue, Herbert Doud, Retha Fredrickson, Lloyd German, Mary Lou Gilmour, Dan Goettle, Jean Goettle, Richard Hieb, Allen Hostrawser, Ethel Kubina, Frank Kubina, Mary Larkin, Barbara Mason, David Nash, Ed Nemec, Andrew Olson, Michael Olson, Fred Schoonover, Alvin Torgerson and Eunice Tiffany.
The fire department purchased its first ambulance in 1972 for $13,900, which included a $5,000 grant from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
With the loss of local ambulance services provided by Torgerson and Buswell funeral services, Jackson County’s Health Commission worked to determine how it would provide ambulance service to residents, eventually asking the BRFFD if it could provide the service. It agreed if Jackson County would reimburse the city for the used ambulance and purchase one more unit.
The Jackson County Board passed a resolution in November 1974 in which the health commission was authorized to purchase one new emergency vehicle and the emergency vehicle the fire department already owned for $25,000. The resolution also allowed for a lease agreement for one year for $1 per vehicle to be used for emergency medical services. For a time, BRFFD firefighters provided EMS for the entire county except for the towns of Garfield, Northfield and Cleveland. Since then, the Jackson County townships of Knapp, Bear Bluff, and North Bend are now covered by other area ambulance services, and the Clark County townships of Mentor and Dewhurst have been added to BRF EMS's response area.
The first ambulance run was made April 27, 1973. Sixty ambulance runs were made in the city of Black River Falls that year.
Fred Schoonover served as the BRF Fire Chief from 1969 to 1979 and is credited with bringing a countywide ambulance service to the area. The department’s Rescue No. 1 was dedicated to Schoonover and as Rescue 1 is replaced over the years, Schoonover’s honor won’t be; the man will forever be acknowledged for all that he did to bring EMS to Jackson County as his name will continue to adorn BRF R1 for all future generations.
The important role Dr. Charles Aprahamian played in bringing EMS to the area was one that was shared years after he moved to a new faculty position at Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and even since he’s passed away. His obituary read, “Troubled by the untimely death of his friend and neighbor, he (Aprahamian) pioneered EMS in Wisconsin, a cause he championed his entire life.”
Through the years, BRF EMS has received statewide recognition regarding those who pioneered it and for all it did to help those who, for the past 40 years at one time or another, required emergency medical assistance.
Today, BRF EMS is a division of the Black River Falls Fire Department, is staffed with an EMS Division Chief, four full-time EMT-Basics, and paid on call part time EMTs. The response area covers 1,000 square miles, which includes most of Jackson County and two townships in Clark County. It serves over 20,000 residents living in the city of Black River Falls and the villages and/or townships of Melrose, Franklin, Irving, Manchester, Millston, Springfield, Albion, Brockway, Curran, Hixton, Alma, Alma Center, Adams Komensky, City Point, Garden Valley, Merrillan, Hatfield, Dewhurst and Mentor.
BRF EMS shares a building with the BRFFD, and today’s fleet includes four ambulances. The training they receive and the equipment on board ambulances today allow EMTs to provide a much higher level of pre-hospital medical care than was the case 40 years ago.
In 2012, the service invested $90,000 to purchase three Physio Control LifePak15 monitor/AED units. Aside from offering a device that they can use to monitor a patient's blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide levels, the monitor can also be used to administer defibrillation to patients in cardiac arrest. Another important feature is the monitor's ability to acquire 12-Lead ECGs (electrocardiogram) in the patient's home or on the scene, and then immediately transmit that information to the emergency room doctor at Black River Memorial Hospital. This data is crucial in deciding what type of treatment the patient will require and determining which hospital can provide the best care for the patient. The technology provided by the Lifepak15 monitors makes it possible for BRF EMS crews to meet the goals of local STEMI (ST segment elevation myocardial infarction) protocols to have STEMI patients in a cath (catheter) lab within 90 minutes of STEMI diagnosis.
Another device used by the service is the Lucas 2, which is a mechanical compression device. The Lucas 2 does uninterrupted chest compressions during CPR, giving the patient the best possible chance of survival.
BRF EMS ambulance crews also use the Stryker stair chair which allows responders to easily move patients through narrow hallways and up or down stairs and the Stryker lift assist cots which lift and lower with the press of a button. These devices improve patient and rescuer safety.
In 2016, BRF EMS responded to 2,069 calls, a few more than the 60 made the first year. There are currently 35 members on the EMS roster, including 29 EMTs, 5 EMRs and 1 Driver. The EMS Division is always looking for people interesting in becoming an EMR/Driver or an EMT and joining the BRF EMS family.
BRF EMS is not subsidized by tax dollars. Ambulance revenue covers expenses. Through all the changes BRF EMS has seen in the past years, the goal remains the same and that is to provide the highest quality pre-hospital medical care to those in need.
EMS Division Coverage Area
BRFEMS covers over 1000 square miles out of one station located in Black River Falls. The green shaded areas are the areas service by the EMS division.