Andy Smith, director of Grand County’s Emergency Medical Services department, recently recalled a conversation he had with a long-term Moab resident: the resident had been a boy scout in the 1950s, he said, which at the time meant that he and his scout group were responsible for rescuing people in the backcountry. 20 years later, in 1973, Grand County EMS was started by a group of friends who wanted to “provide better prehospital care” to locals and visitors who need rescue.
In the past decade, since Smith started in 2012, EMS calls rose 76%—in 2021, the department received 1,675 calls. The increase in calls meant the department needed to hire more people, but the department found itself suffering a common issue in Moab: a lack of available housing for its workforce.
“I think we’re just trying to keep up at this point,” Smith said.
Smith hopes the department’s new building on the top of 100 North will alleviate those challenges.
Grand County EMS employs 15 full-time and 35 part-time employees. Almost 30% of those employees travel in from places other than Moab, Smith said, from as far as Salt Lake City and Flagstaff, Arizona. In the past, on-duty employees slept in the Melich House, a small building constructed in 1905 with two bedrooms that could house four people. Some of the responders would sleep in tents in the front yard.
“When I started in 2012, it was very clear that the staff needed something new,” Smith said.
Department leaders began thinking about a new station in 2005, but true momentum for the new building came in 2018. Where the new building now sits, there used to be office space for Sand Flats Recreation Area and Grand County Trails. EMS had been using the space for training, and was eyeing it as a potential new headquarters. The county offered the department the land for free, Smith said.
“It got to the point where the best option, and the best solution, was to tear down [the old building] and start over,” he said.
During an open house on May 19, EMS staff showed visitors around the 12,500 square foot building, which has two floors and an equipment bay to house the department’s ambulances. On the first floor are six admin offices and a training room, with space for staff to practice CPR and ventilation on a state-of-the-art CPR dummy—the dummy has yet to be named, but can emit realistic screams and grunts while it’s being worked on.
On the second floor is where responders will stay. There’s a kitchen, complete with three refrigerators and pantries for each staff rotation, and an espresso machine; a lounge area with comfy chairs and a TV; an outdoor patio with a view of the Moab valley walls to the west; and best of all, eight bedrooms, each with a window, bed, closet, and desk. Full-time EMTs work 48-hour shifts, during which they live at the EMS station.
“The department’s pretty tight-knit,” Smith said. “It’s a pretty close group of people that really get along—and that’s what we want to keep, we want to keep a nice culture in the organization, because growth can sometimes ruin that.”
Looking forward, Smith is keeping an eye on the I-70 corridor, which he’s noticed has gotten busier. The EMS department responds to everything within the 3,600 square miles of Grand County, plus some of San Juan County—but the farther a call is, the longer it takes to get there.
“We would really like a second station,” he said.
But until that happens, Smith is just glad EMS can be in Moab.
“We’re happy to be here serving the community,” Smith said. “And we’re interested in having a bigger reach.”