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Ambulances sent from Fergus Falls, Jamestown help injured Ukrainians

Fergus Falls-based Ringdahl EMS has sent three ambulances to Ukraine, and a fourth is on the way.

Soldiers lean against a van-style ambulance that has been painted camouflage.
One of Ringdhal EMS's donated ambulances has been painted camouflage. The Ukrainian soldiers' faces have been obscured to protect their identities.
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FERGUS FALLS, Minn. — Each ambulance that Tollef Ringdahl donates to Ukraine is like sending a family member to war.

“I shouldn't use the analogy of sending a loved one to war, but it has that same feeling. ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve been worried about you, ambulance No. 5, where have you been?’ And then (we get) to see that they’re being used,” said Ringdahl, chief financial officer for Ringdhal EMS.

Based out of Fergus Falls, the company also offers emergency medical services in Jamestown, Lisbon and Casselton in North Dakota, and Pelican Rapids, Minnesota. Last spring, Ringdahl EMS donated three ambulances to help the wounded in Ukraine. In August, a fourth ambulance was retired and sent by boat, Ringdahl said.

“We do disaster response, we go to hurricane areas, and during COVID, we were in New York City in these trucks, running mercy calls within the city along with New York City fire departments, and these trucks are like family to us," he said. "Our crews lived in these for months at a time, and it was kind of hard to separate with these trucks, because they’re like family."

A van-style ambulance is parked in a dirt area.
An ambulance that used to run in Fergus Falls now helps injured people in Ukraine.
Contributed

So when he was sent pictures of the donated vehicles from 5,000 miles away and saw that they had not been destroyed by Russian missiles or stolen by thieves, Ringdahl and his co-workers were ecstatic.

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Each retired ambulance, with a resale value of about $15,000, would typically sit in the parking lot waiting to be sold. But now, they’re still helping save lives. Some Ukrainian doctors are using ambulances as mobile clinics, Ringdahl said.

“We’re on board with this because it’s not like we're sending them diapers or munitions. This is a pretty innocent gift. They’re ambulances. It’s to help people, that’s the only thing behind it. Yeah, we are taking sides, but we want the Ukrainians and people to get better whether in the battlefield or wherever,” Ringdahl said.

Uniformed soliders stand in front of a van-style ambulance that says "Jamestown Area Ambulance."
An ambulance from Jamestown, North Dakota, is parked in a Ukrainian neighborhood, where it helps offer medical assistance to residents.
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“Some of the ambulances are going to hospitals and areas that don’t have a hospital because maybe the hospital was destroyed. Some are the only sources of medicine in an entire area,” he said.

Earlier this year, Ringdahl met a man from central Illinois named Chris Manson, vice president of government relations for OSF HealthCare System. A conversation about the situation in Ukraine prompted a question that made Ringdahl think about helping out.

“Just in passing, he asked if we wanted to send ambulances to Ukraine. And I was thinking that would be kind of cool, we had ambulances coming up for retirement,” Ringdahl said.

Two children kneel and write on an ambulance.
Some North Dakotans and Minnesotans took the time to sign their names to an ambulance from Ringdahl EMS in Fergus Falls before it was shipped to Ukraine.
Contributed / Ringdahl EMS

So far, Ringdahl has been sending the ambulances through Manson to the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America, and he is hoping to send a fifth retired ambulance to Ukraine soon, he said.

Manson became involved last March while watching the devastation of the war on television with his 7-year-old daughter.

“She was watching the news with me, asking if there was anything we could do to help,” Manson said. “So, I thought maybe we could get an ambulance full of supplies.”

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Today, there are 11 ambulances in Ukraine sent through Manson and working on the front lines. Another seven are on ships headed there, and one of those is Ringdahl’s, Manson said.

Two van-style ambulances are loaded onto a flatbed behind a semi-tractor.
Ambulances from Fergus Falls and Pelican Rapids that Ringdahl EMS donated to Ukraine are loaded onto a truck for transportation.
Contributed / Ringdahl EMS

Manson is looking for more ambulances, and he’s expanding to help donate fire trucks. Already, he has one that has been donated and “has nibbles on a few more,” said Manson, who has flown to Poland to drive the trucks into Ukraine before.

“It’s the people like Tollef and his brother or anyone who has given us ambulances — without them, we would have never had the momentum. I am happy to do something if I can help,” Manson said.

An ambulance that reads "Ringdahl Pelican Rapids" is packed among cargo.
One of the ambulances Ringdahl EMS donated to Ukraine is for shipping 5,000 miles away.
Contributed

C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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