MICHIGAN, N.D. – After nearly dying a year ago, Michigan Area Ambulance Service is not only healthy, but winning awards.

The ambulance service in the town of 271, which almost closed its doors in 2019, this year received the Northeast Regional Service of the Year award from the North Dakota Emergency Medical Services Association.

Meanwhile, the North Dakota Emergency Medical Services Association also recognized two Michigan Area Ambulance Service volunteers with regional awards. The Northeast is one of four NDEMSA regions across North Dakota.

“They went from a service most likely to close in early 2019 to five drivers and four EMT/paramedics by December 2019,” said Bill Tuttle, Northeast Region director of the North Dakota Emergency Medical Services Association. “There are more than 100 ambulance services in the state of North Dakota, so it’s a huge recognition to be one of the four.”

The turnabout is the result of a team effort, said Sarah Vaith, ambulance service operations director. Volunteers on the ambulance squad have been willing to become drivers, have been flexible about the hours of their shifts and taking on more shifts, and also have embraced her ideas for ways that the ambulance service can reach out to the public, Vaith said.

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For example, during Michigan Days last summer, the ambulance service had its vehicle on display and handed out frozen treats to the public. Vaith also has plans to hold community CPR classes, babysitting certification classes and information about strokes.

“I have a squad that is supportive of that,” Vaith said. “When I come up with new ideas, my squad has backed them, and said ‘Let’s do this.’”

The Michigan Ambulance Service’s participation in community events, training programs and its volunteers’ dedication are among reasons the service was selected for the Northeast Regional Service award, Tuttle said. The service also stood out because the service’s members are a cohesive group and are recruiting others to volunteer, he said.

“They’ve brought a bunch of young people into their program, and that’s a great benefit to the people of North Dakota,” he said.

Ashley Folven, who joined the ambulance service in April 2019, was named this year’s Northeast Regional Service Rising Star. The award is given to a new emergency medical technician or emergency medical responder who shows rapid improvement, excellent skills and takes on new responsibilities, according to the NDEMSA. Folven joined the ambulance service as a driver, and in December 2019 was certified as an EMT.

“When we have community events, Ashley is always the first one to volunteer and be president,” Vaith said.

Michigan Area Ambulance Service driver Nicole Kirby also was recognized by the North Dakota Emergency Medical Services Association, receiving the Northeast Regional Service Siren award. The award is given to a driver, not licensed above the emergency medical responder level, who goes above and beyond the call of duty, showing professionalism and dedication to emergency medical services, the NDEMSA said.

Kirby’s willingness to be flexible with her schedule has been an asset to the ambulance service, Vaith said. Kirby also is willing to take on extra shifts, she said.

“If someone needs coverage of their schedule, for whatever reason, she steps in to cover," Vaith said.

Vaith’s leadership skills also are an important reason the Michigan Area Ambulance Service is not only still in existence, but now winning awards, said Maria Vasichek, a member of the service’s board of directors.

“She has a real personality that brings people together,” Vasichek said. “We've run almost a year now, doing exceptionally well, without problems. It’s amazing. I thought it would have been a goner.”

The efforts of Vaith and the Michigan Ambulance Service volunteers are a story that needs to be told, Tuttle said. “Everywhere I went in 2018 and early 2019, everyone was asking if they were still licensed by the state and were they going to close their doors.”

By reaching out to the community and initiating programs, the ambulance service went from being on the edge of closure to robust, Tuttle said.

“The community has succeeded in saving its ambulance service, and for those reasons the North Dakota Regional Medical Services Association recognized it as Northeast Regional Service of the Year,” he said.