HESSTON — The Hesston Women's Civic Club had plenty of questions — and received plenty of answers —about how the fire and emergency medical services department in their city operated as they gathered at Hesston's Municipal Building Monday night.

Hesston Fire/EMS Chief Russ Buller started by shared some facts about the history of the city's fire department — from the early days of a bucket brigade to upgrading to a chemical cart and then finally getting motorized vehicles to shorten response times.

Several in the group nodded in remembrance as Buller spoke about the formation of the Hesston Rescue Unit in 1959.

"They ran their own personal station wagons," Buller said. "They put stretchers in the back and light bars on the top when a call came in and they would respond to emergencies and render care."

Hesston Fire/EMS covers about 75 square miles, and can respond to parts of McPherson County and Marion County faster than other departments in those areas.

"For Harvey County being the smallest county in the state of Kansas, we have 14 ambulances within the county that we can have here in 15 minutes or less," Buller said. "...We're quite fortunate to have the resources we do."

They also provide mutual aid to several fire departments, including Newton, Walton and Whitewater.

The buck does not stop there, though, as Buller noted an ambulance from Hesston was sent to Greensburg in the wake of the tornado that hit the town in 2007.

"We were there by 10 o'clock that next morning and we did missions with rescue teams to look for bodies," Buller said.

The majority of Hesston's fire and EMS staff respond to calls as they are paged out.

"Technically, by city definition, they are part-time employees of the city of Hesston, because we do pay them when they respond," Buller said.

The personnel are also compensated for their time when they participate in training.

"A lot of my staff are both sides — they go on fire trucks, they go on ambulances, they do whatever needs to be done," Buller said.

Determining which vehicles are sent out after a 911 call takes prior planning.

"We have protocols that we use to identify the kind of situation we may be going to," Buller said. "...Our fire trucks go to injury accidents along with our ambulance."

In the same manner, ambulances accompany fire trucks responding to a report of a structure.

"There's a lot of crossover," Buller explained. "Everybody has a lot of responsibilities on each scene that they fulfill."

Buller also spoke about the responses from the Fire/EMS department after major fires, the 1990 tornado and a shooting at Excel Industries.

"It's a challenge to manage and support all of that type of response," Buller said.

During severe weather, the department's vehicles are scattered around to both serve as spotter and responders, but also to avoid being in the same place should a tornado touch down.

"We're spreading our assets so we don't lose everyone," Buller said.

Three chaplains work with the department to aid both at emergency scenes and back at the station.

"Having people trained to watch our staff and help keep them healthy mentally as well, is very important," Buller said.

The fire trucks and ambulances at Hesston are being switched over to a paint scheme of bright yellow with a blue stripe.

"It goes to visibility, it goes to safety, it goes to uniqueness," Buller explained. "...It always impressed me that it was so much more visible than the red fire truck."

The EMS department in Hesston has three ambulances to answer around 700 calls per year, 50 percent of which are medical emergencies. Another 40 percent are traumatic accidents such as car wrecks, falls, cuts or amputations. The remaining 10 percent of the calls are rendering mutual aid.

Hesston's fire department answers between 200 and 250 calls per year, many of which are assistance for EMS calls to aid in lifting or extracting patients. Going to fire and carbon monoxide alarm calls makes up another part of their work.

"Our department is extremely busy for the size that we are," Buller said.

For more information about Hesston Fire/EMS, visit http://www.hesstonks.org/departments/fire_and_ems/index.php or call 620-327-4412.

For more information about Hesston Women's Civic Club programs, email hesstonwomenscivicclub@gmail.com.