MEDS-1 EMS: They’re there when we need them

 They’re there when you need them most.  MEDS-1 EMS, a Grand Rapids-based ambulance and paramedic service owned by Kevin McNichols, is the kind of business that communities depend on.  Thirty-nine employees strong, MEDS-1 EMS is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. 

“We have to be there when the calls come, and we never know when that will be,” said Kevin McNichols, CEO and owner.  “We rotate holidays so everyone will have an opportunity to have time off during some the holidays throughout the year, but in this business there is no down time for holidays.”

Kevin and his brother, Jim, formed the business as “the boys” in July, 1978.  “I was working as an ambulance driver and first aid coordinator for the Deer River Hospital,” explained Kevin.  “I liked working with older people and I attended an emergency response training school in Remer to get a little more training.  Itasca County had decided to put the ambulance service up for bids after having had a long-term contract with another provider.  My brother, who was an EMT in Joliet, Illinois, and I decided to put a proposal together.  We were going up against some established competitors, and we had no track record.  We had support from key County Board members, and the rest is history.”

Jim and Kevin ran the business with mostly themselves as the entire work force in the early years.  One of their cousins worked weekends so they could have some time off occasionally.  “We put in lots of hours in those days,” Kevin sighed.

MEDS-1 EMS found space in the former Farm Service building that had been purchased by Blandin Paper Company in anticipation of the No. 6 paper machine expansion.  “John Reif, the industrial relations manager at the mill, let us use space in that building, and in exchange we were the early emergency-response team for the mill.  It was a good arrangement.”

The business moved into a garage at 1328 Fifth Street Northwest, their current location, in 1986, and Grand Rapids State Bank was there to help finance the deal.  “It was the jump-start we needed,” added Kevin.  “We then bought two small adjacent homes and eventually built the office and operations space we have today.  Our last expansion was in May 2006, and by that point we were able to pay for the construction out of our savings.”

Kevin is proud of the business he’s built, and the MEDS-1 operations center now houses meeting rooms for training as well as storage for the supplies and equipment needed to respond to nearly any type of emergency situation.  “We do a lot of training for fire department and first responders in Grand Rapids and neighboring communities.  It’s part of the business we’ve built.”

Kevin made a point of recognizing the contributions made by his wife, Cindy, to the success of his business.  “Cindy has been a carpenter all her career,” added Kevin, “and in the early days she put food on the table while we were starting up.  This has been an adventure.”

Kevin McNichols in the MEDS-1 ambulance garage at 1328 Fifth Street Northwest.

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