Get hit head-on in an auto collision on Federal Boulevard in Denver and you can expect that an ambulance operated by Denver Health will arrive in a matter of minutes, two highly trained paramedics on board. Get hit head-on in Poudre Canyon west of Fort Collins, and it’s likely to be a very different experience.
First, you have to find a phone in an area with no cell service, said Bill Sears, president of the board of the Poudre Canyon Fire Protection District.
“In the lower part of the canyon, a couple of our volunteers work close, in the western part of Fort Collins, and they’re close enough that they can respond into the lower canyon in about – worst case is about half an hour,” Sears said. “If you’re bleeding to death, of course, that’s no consolation. But that’s the reality of being out in the boondocks. But if everybody’s working or they’re out of town or you know, whatever, nobody may respond.”
In that case, a call for help would go to the Poudre Fire Authority in Fort Collins, and the response would come from there, adding another 10 or 15 minutes – or more.
This combination, geography and logistics, is why the majority of all fatal crashes and all traffic fatalities nationally continue to occur on rural roads, while only about 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas.
The same holds true for Colorado, according to an investigation by Rocky Mountain PBS I-News. One determining factor is the distance from emergency medical service at which some of these accidents occur.
That’s because in emergency medicine, minutes matter. And Colorado is a state with 82 percent of its 5.3 million people concentrated along the Front Range from Fort Collins to Pueblo. And a state with vast sweeps of rural land, including three of the country’s 15 least-populous counties.
Those realities have spawned a patchwork emergency medical system where a wide disparity exists between the on-the-ground care you could expect along a rural highway and what you would see along the urbanized Front Range.
Minutes are what matter.
“The ‘Golden Hour’ is a real thing,” said Dr. Gregory Jurkovich, chief of surgery at Denver Health Medical Center. “The concept is valid – you have a limited amount of time before you’ve lost your opportunity to save someone’s life.”