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First responders fight snowstorm, fallen trees on highway while caring for patient losing blood

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KAMIAH — It’s not how Kamiah Fire-Rescue typically responds to medical calls, but first responders weren’t letting a snowstorm stop them from helping a person experiencing a “critical medical issue.”

On Thursday at 8:15 a.m., Kamiah Fire-Rescue, which is located in a rural area of Idaho, was dispatched to a remote location in the mountains where a person was having a medical emergency and losing blood, according to Chief Bill Arsenault. He said due to the weather Kamiah has had lately, including snow, icy roads and low visibility on the roads, he knew getting to the patient would be a challenge.

“We keep one ambulance chained up right now to go on all of our calls (because of the snow),” Arsenault said.

After receiving the call, first responders immediately hopped into the chained ambulance and started on their way. But after looking at the satellite map of where they needed to go, Arsenault knew the ambulance wouldn’t make it. That’s when he called one of his firefighters who owns a snowmachine and asked him to meet them.

“The snow on the way up to the top was pretty thick. We’re talking 8 to 10 inches,” Arsenault told “Even where they had plowed 24 hours before, it snowed again all night last night (Wednesday night) and dropped anywhere from a foot to two feet in some places.”

There were only three medically qualified people with Arsenault, including himself. As the one with the most experience, he decided he’d snowmobile to the patient, assess the situation and bring the patient back with him.

“This was one of those unique situations where it’s not going to look pretty,” Arsenault, who recognizes he didn’t wear a helmet on the snowmachine, explained. “We got to do what we got to do.”

It was about a two-mile ride in on the snowmachine, and Arsenault said he could not see the road. Not only that, but communication was hard with their dispatch center because of where they were at. They had to use a different dispatch center in the neighboring county.

Meanwhile, the patient and spouse told dispatch they were going to drive out to the ambulance. They made it 100 yards from their house before they tipped their truck over on its side and landed in the snow.

Once Arsenault came across the scene, he assessed the patient, and the patient was loaded onto a neighbor’s side-by-side that was chained up and had a snowplow on it. The spouse rode back with Arsenault on the snowmachine.

The patient was eventually placed in the ambulance, but once they got on the state highway and were headed for the hospital, they ran into another problem.

“They’re calling (saying), ‘Tree on the road. Can’t get around this one,'” Arsenault said about his crew.

Arsenault quickly rounded up people, and they began cutting trees off the highway so the ambulance could get through.

“Out here, you have to think outside the box. You have to,” he added. “You don’t have a ton of resources. You don’t have a hospital on every corner.”

He said this call was a “huge learning experience,” especially for the new members of the department who have only been on for a year.

“No call is ever the same, but this gives them more and more tools in their toolbox for future planning,” Arsenault said.

He added, “It was a lot of people coming together real quick. It was a lot of unique logistics.”

From the time Kamiah Fire-Rescue was dispatched to the ambulance crew leaving the hospital, it took about two hours. Arsenault said the patient ended up receiving two units of blood.

Kamiah Fire Rescue Firefighter Andrew Kiele
Firefighter Andrew Kiele with his snowmachine. | Courtesy Kamiah Fire-Rescue
Kamiah Fire Rescue responding to a call
The snowy roads that Kamiah Fire-Rescue drove in. | Courtesy Kamiah Fire-Rescue
Kamiah Fire Rescue Chief Bill Arsenault
Kamiah Fire-Rescue Chief Bill Arsenault. | Courtesy Kamiah Fire-Rescue