Brenda Wilson got up before dawn to bring her 3-year-old granddaughter down to King Cove’s ferry dock. They joined around a dozen people to watch the vehicles come down off the M/V Tustumena, all waiting to greet the new ambulance.
“We’ve been waiting for a new ambulance for so many years,” Wilson said. “Ours is kind of tilted. It’s kind of hanging off on one side. The battery dies all the time. So many things go wrong.”
Wilson works at the King Cove Medical Clinic, the community’s only healthcare provider. She said they’ve been using the city’s sole ambulance for 30 years.
King Cove often makes headlines for its long-fought battle over a proposed road that would connect it to the all-weather airport in Cold Bay. The remote Aleutian community says the road is key to saving lives because medevacs have a hard time landing on the small, gravel airstrip.
With such limited healthcare, it’s a big deal when the community gets new medical equipment. And when they get something big, like the new ambulance that arrived in August, that can be cause for celebration.
The cherry red ambulance drove off the ramp and onto the dock with its lights flashing, and promptly made its way to the clinic.
A new ambulance can easily cost half a million dollars. Add in the cost of shipping, and it’s no wonder a small community at the tip of the Alaska Peninsula has only had one ambulance for three decades.
But this ambulance isn’t exactly new: it’s a remount of a retired ambulance.
The company Osage refurbished a 2007 ambulance that had previously served rural Vermont. They took the cab off the old chassis, stripped it down to bare metal, then inspected the welds. They then replaced and updated the equipment, including a new electrical system and a fresh paint job. In the end, the ambulance was blessed as a brand-new vehicle.
King Cove Fire Chief Chris Babcock said that was the only way they could have afforded it.
“We wouldn’t have been able to afford a regular ambulance being built from the ground up,” he said. “With the remount, it probably saved us 40 to 50% in cost. And so it’s a tremendous savings.”
Babcock said the ambulance holds greater significance in King Cove than it might someplace else. There is no hospital, and without reliable medevac access, every second counts when responding to emergencies.
“We could be sitting at the airport for a little while waiting for one of those medevac situations to come in to King Cove. Having updated equipment gives them a little bit more relief and a little more of, ‘maybe things aren’t going to be as bad as they seem’” he said.
It’s been about a month since King Cove received the new ambulance, and the clinic said it’s already made multiple trips, including responding to an incident within about 48 hours of its arrival.