Paramedics with the Rapid City Fire Department faced an unexpected challenge over the weekend when their ambulance was stolen during a call, and this isn't the first time it's happened.
Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary when firefighter-paramedics responded to a call Saturday night.
"A standard call, person requesting medical assistance inside the residence. We park as close as we can to that location," firefighter-paramedic Brett Johnson said.
But when Johnson walked out of the patient's home, he was shocked to see his ambulance driving away.
"It took a little bit just to set in. I thought maybe it was one of our additional crew members helping to reposition the ambulance for better loading of the patient. But as it continued away from the scene, I realized that was not the case," Johnson said.
Even though it was recovered just a few blocks from the scene where it was taken, paramedics had to request another ambulance, adding time to their call.
"Had this been a more serious call for the fire department, this could have really jeopardized patient care for us and our ability to load that patient quickly and get them to the hospital," Rapid City Fire Department Fire Chief Mike Maltaverne said.
It's the second time this has happened since 2008. And although the department keeps drugs and other equipment in ambulances under lock and key, officials say locking the vehicle while on calls just isn't realistic.
"If we send a crew member outside to get a piece of equipment and somebody inside has the keys, it's going to make us less efficient," Maltaverne said.
The fire chief says the department is looking into ways to stop future thefts, but says incidents like this are rare.
"When you're talking 10,000 to 11,000 calls per year and this only happens once every five to seven to eight years, it is a rare occurrence. Nonetheless, it's very alarming to us," Maltaverne said.
Witnesses were able to help police identify a suspect in the theft. 26-year old Mike Johnston was arrested for DUI and unauthorized use of a vehicle and is free on a $300 bond.
Fully stocked, an ambulance is worth around $250,000.