When a fire strikes in North Dakota, first responders are almost always volunteers.
KX News spent the afternoon in Ashley, where they have a team of more than 40 volunteers: 23 firefighters and about 20 paramedics, along with other ambulance staff.
Several members of our team brought lunch in to thank these heroes for their commitment, and we enjoyed getting to know them.
One member of both the ambulance and fire squad has been volunteering for 46 years.
In continuing coverage: Three weeks ago, the Ashley Medical Center caught fire.
We were in McIntosh County, where the center is one of two major healthcare facilities in the county.
The Medical Center CEO says the fire was contained quickly, and all patients and hospital staff were evacuated within 30 minutes.
Ashley Medical Center was back up and running after just four days, and it was all thanks to Ashley Rural Fire Department.
The entire volunteer force is on call 24/7, and every single one of them, responded in no time.
Fire Chief Link Golz, like many of the volunteers, spends most of his time working elsewhere.
Chief Golz adds, “I also own the hardware store downtown.”
One firefighter shared with us, there are not many people that will work extra for free these days. But community strength really shows in rural North Dakota.
The Fire Chief explains, “It can be hard, but we have a very, very good group of guys that will drop anything that they’re doing to go to a fire.”
And that’s exactly what happened around 11 a.m. on February 12th. When the medical center caught fire and the main offices were consumed in smoke, every team member stopped what they were doing and responded together.
Golz shares, “It was a cold, ugly day. The pagers went off and I happened to be at my store by myself. My help was stranded at home.”
Regardless, they responded within ten minutes.
McIntosh County Sheriff and Ashley Ambulance EMT Laurie Spitzer adds, “I was one of the first ones on scene. I said you know, ‘A lot of times it’s a false alarm or a drill.’ But that day when I walked up to the hospital and you see smoke coming out of it, that’s a whole different game.”
Volunteer paramedics like Laurie Sptizer, come to every fire just in case.
She adds, “It’s a small force but it works.”
And as any one of these guys will tell you, helping others is just second nature for them.
Golz shares, “We never give it a second thought. It’s natural instinct to go out and help whoever is in need.”
Spitzer explains, “You’re here to help the people and that’s what we do.”
The portion of the facility that was burnt is still under construction, to get rid of the lingering smoke effects. There was no structural damage.
Ashley Medical Center CEO says they have already removed the ceiling tiles. They still have some work left to do, like deep cleaning.
The CEO Holly Wolff explains, “There was just a lot of smoke. And the fire doors did their job, so downstairs we had fire doors close the administrative hallway and that’s kind of where the smoke got trapped. So mostly, that’s why those offices are having to be cleaned out.”
Wolff says they’re not sure when everything will be back to normal just yet.