In 1973, the City of River Falls found itself in a dilemma. The city’s only private ambulance service was going out of business. Fran Weishaar, owner of the private ambulance service was going out of business in December 1973. He stated it wasn’t a profitable business. The city of River Falls mayor and city council approved what was called an ambulance committee in November 1973. Until the new ambulance service could be officially formed, emergency calls were handled by the fire department using a rescue truck as an ambulance. Members of the fire department had minimal EMS training at the time.
On January 24, 1974 Pat Petricka was appointed project director for the newly formed ambulance committee by the city council. The council authorized the paperwork that later lead to a grant to purchase the first new ambulance for the City of River Falls in January 1975. Numerous meetings were held with the Rural Towns to discuss the feasibility of purchasing an ambulance to serve the area. Until the first ambulance for the City of River Falls could be purchased, the city borrowed an International Travel All Ambulance from Woodville, WI. Being EMS was fairly new to begin with in general, the service only operated with the bare necessities. A State Assembly Bill was passed in March 1974 requiring licensing of ambulance attendants. EMT training programs were then born. The first Ambulance Director was Jim Helminiak who was instructed to immediately recruit and train an ambulance crew in first aid and rescue. In January 1975, the first River Falls Ambulance was ordered at a cost of $15, 175. It was a van type ambulance. Additional equipment for the ambulance was also purchased at a cost of $1,400.
Being a new service, money was scarce, but equipment was still needed to equip the ambulance. Thanks to local clubs, organizations and personal donations, the service was able to purchase all the equipment it needed at the time. Pat Petricka started out on the Ambulance Commission and later moved to Service Director. He served as Director from 1978-1988. Pat died of a massive heart attack in 1990. He was transported to the hospital during his heart attack by his own ambulance service, River Falls Ambulance. In 1988, Mike Stuttgen was elected as the Director for River Falls Ambulance. Throughout Mike’s term as ambulance director, he accomplished many goals. Mike was very proactive in improving EMS to his community. Mike’s largest accomplished goals were the construction of our new ambulance facility in 1999 and the purchase of our third ambulance also in 1999. Mike served as Director until February of 2000 when the service’s first full time director, Jeff Rixmann was hired.
In 2002 the service recognized a need for a multiple response trailer to be used to treat numerous patients at one time. The service acquired grants and funding from various organizations and individuals to purchase and fully equip a 20 foot multiple response trailer. The trailer and all equipment inside it cost $45,689. The department also received the 2002 EMS Service of the Year Award from the WI EMS Association.
As the community continued to grow with increasing demands for ambulance services, the fourth ambulance was added in January of 2003. The service also recognized the need for a second full time person to assist with training of the expanding EMT staff and help with covering daytime calls. In January 2005, Wes Halvorsen was hired as the Operations Supervisor to assist the Director with the many office duties and operations to run the ambulance service. Wes resigned in February 2006 to take another position. Holly Mitchell took his place in June 2006. In December 2005, the service received an anonymous donation of a new 2005 Dodge Durango to be used as an advanced life support quick response vehicle. The Rotary Club of River Falls and the First National Bank of River Falls assisted in acquiring graphics and emergency lighting packages for the vehicle.
In December 2006, the service received another donation of a second new 2006 Dodge Durango to be used as a second paramedic quick response vehicle starting in 2007, when the service officially upgraded to paramedic on January 1, 2007. In January 2012, the state of WI decided to add a new EMS level beginning in January of 2013. This new level was Critical Care Paramedic, the highest level possible for pre-hospital care. River Falls EMS management and personnel took it upon themselves to put together a plan to upgrade to this new level. A 100 hour course was held in River Falls and 10 River Falls Paramedics completed the course in August 2012.
January 1, 2013, River Falls EMS officially upgraded to the newly WI EMS approved Critical Care Paramedic level to continue to serve the residents in our community to the best of our abilities. January 1, 2015 River Falls EMS assumed the operations of the Prescott Ambulance after many months of negotiations with the Prescott Fire & EMS Association. This added another ambulance to our fleet and another station to operate from. It also added an additional 7,500 people and another 54 square miles to our district.