Everyday heroes

When you’re a member of an ambulance crew, you never quite know what your day will bring. These are medicine’s everyday heroes – the emergency medical technicians and paramedics whose work is stressful, demanding, exacting, skilled, professional and rewarding.

What is it like to spend a day in their shoes? To mark National Emergency Medical Services Week, we’re taking readers behind the scenes today with live guest-blogging by the Willmar Ambulance Service at Rice Memorial Hospital. Follow us from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and see how the day unfolds as entries are live-blogged continuously throughout the day. Readers are invited to ask questions or provide feedback via the comment section below; the paramedics will try to answer as many of your questions as possible. Be sure to check out the links posted above to learn more – and visit us often during the day for live updates.

7:03 a.m.: Good morning, everyone, this is Brad Hanson, the operations manager for the Willmar Ambulance Service. I will be blogging with you today as we respond to calls and bring you up to speed on a day in the life of a Willmar paramedic.

I am just heading into the office after helping my wife get the kids up for the day and off to school and day care. As the manager, I have a take-home paramedic vehicle so I can always be available if there is a major incident or have to cover call in town due to our crews being busy on other calls.

Our service responded to over 2,600 calls last year, so we have some very busy days where all five of our ambulances are being utilized. You may have seen one of our big blue ambulances in the community!

I am looking forward to giving you an inside look today, so let me know if you have any questions!

7:34 a.m.: Well, looking back over the night shift we have already been a bit busy. As I was saying earlier, I am on call pretty much 24/7. As I was making breakfast for my wife with my 8-year-old daughter this morning (we decided we were going to serve breakfast to her in bed since today is our 14th wedding anniversary), my wife Michelle was awakened by my cell phone ringing. One of the crews called regarding a transfer to St. Cloud, as they were just finishing up an intercept call to Atwater. I will explain intercepts more later. S0 much for the perfect surprise breakfast in bed…

Oh well, we had a good breakfast, and in reviewing the night I remember hearing several pages for the crews since 11 p.m. I counted five with the transfer. It makes for a long night and morning for the crew that started last evening at 7 p.m. Looks like it’s going to be a 16-hour shift for Jim and Keith. This also leaves us a bit short in town so only one crew now until 9 a.m., then back to two. Let’s see how the rest of this day goes.

7:59 a.m.: Checked in with the new 0700 crew, Lonnie and Jim B., today, having a bite of breakfast, then on to rig checks.

Our mornings start out fairly typical with equipment checks to make sure everything is on board and ready and the narcotics are counted and signed off. We are also going to be getting ready for our open house tomorrow as it is National Emergency Medical Services Week, so if you get a chance, say thanks to anyone in public safety that does medical work, from 911 dispatchers, First Responders, EMTs, paramedics, emergency room physicians and nurses.

8:36 a.m.: Sure is nice to see the sun, it can get to be a HUGE downer to do ambulance calls when the weather is nasty. I can remember many calls over the years where I was sure glad I had extra winter gloves and hats in my vehicle to hand out to crews on accident calls when it was below zero. Brrrr!

Having nice days just makes you even more excited about how you can help. It’s kind of like an unknown adventure, waiting for the pager to start blaring about an emergency. Are we going to be going to a major accident, transporting a pleasant elderly lady from a nursing home to the hospital, or something else?…  It seems some days you can just sense that it’s going to be busy and some days you wonder if you’re ever going to get a call.

I mentioned intercepts in a previous blog. Since Willmar Ambulance is an Advanced Life Support Ambulance Service, or ALS, we provide advanced care services to all the Basic Life Support Services around Willmar. In Kandiyohi County there are a total of five ambulance services: New London, Atwater, Raymond, Lake Lillian and Willmar. We also work with services outside of our county like Kerkhoven, Clara City, Brooten, Cosmos and others.

We are automatically sent out on calls anywhere in our county if the 911 call is for things like chest pain, major trauma or someone that is considered unconscious or unresponsive. We have a great working relationship with all our surrounding services and always look forward to working with them to help take care of their patients.

9:30 a.m.: We are back to full crews in town. We have two crews on street duty during the day Monday through Friday, with another crew on call either from home if they live in Willmar or at our ambulance quarters located within the Kandiyohi County Rescue Squad building just north of the E. Highway 12 Burger King on Lakeland Drive (very nice facility).

Our two duty crews have assigned tasks to keep them busy during their shifts, like getting the garage ready today for our open house, or working on any number of assigned tasks like data reports, CPR training or just making sure the trucks are looking good. I always remind our staff that we live in a fishbowl and we are driving large blue billboards, so we always need to look and be professional as we are serving the public 24/7!

10:22 a.m.: With our crews today is Jesse. He is a new casual paramedic hired recently by Willmar Ambulance and is doing his field training today. When we hire new staff, we look for candidates that will fit well within our organization and that are already trained to the National Registry EMT standards.

The Willmar Ambulance field training program trains new members how to be an EMT or paramedic on our service. Field training is done by our seasoned Field Training Officers, or FTO staff. Depending on any previous experience in EMS, this training can last up to 30 days. In this time, we schedule the new hire with FTOs for a number of shifts. They spend the day working with the duty crews going through the equipment on the trucks, checking off on a number of different competency tasks during their FTO time.

As they go on calls with us, they initially start by just watching and getting used to our process, paperwork and how we handle calls, as well as learning our medical protocols and working on mapping of the city. As time goes on and runs are accomplished, they move to being the care provider while the FTO watches their care. After each event and the end of every shift, they are evaluated on the day to see where they are at and asked how they are feeling about the position.

Quality assurance is a large part of our work and we always evaluate and make sure our protocols are being followed and reviewing our runs to maintain the best care possible!

12:09 p.m.: Hello, my name is Shar. I have been an EMT with Willmar Ambulance Service for just over eight years. Also a member of Kandiyohi County Rescue for the past 10 years. I got into this profession a little later than most of my co-workers.

At the time I decided to become an EMT I was looking at doing something different with my life, needed a career change and this was something I had wanted to do but didn’t have the opportunity, due to having small children at home.

Yes, we all start out as adrenaline junkies and get a little excited when the pagers start to go off and we hear the sirens, see flashing lights, just like little kids do whenever they see us.

A typical day for myself and my medic partner Carrie is Mon.-Fri. 9-5. We start our day with rig checks, making sure all equipment is stocked and everything is in full working condition.

After that we head into the EMS office which is located in the emergency room where we have a lot of other assigned duties to do each day. My typical duties other than 911 and back-up calls consist of entering all ambulance billings into the computer for the business office, entering our statistics into the computer, maintaining the casual and full-time schedules for all of our staff, ordering equipment and uniforms for all of our staff, making sure we have staff to cover open shifts, fill liquid O2 tank on our truck, assist ER when needed, of course cleaning of trucks, lots of paperwork and all other duties as assigned.

The 9-5 shift is also called the power shift because we cover the hours of the day when we are usually the busiest and we handle most of the daytime transfers that are sent out to other hospitals. We also do some casual calls where you don’t have to be in the office but respond if a call comes in for a third rig.

As EMTs we do a lot of patient care with our medic partners but we also do most of the driving. We have to go through a driving program and must maintain current certification and also clean driving records. We have continued education to keep our skills and certification.

Like all jobs, we have some bad days. Sometimes you have a call that just hits home, but I wouldn’t trade this job for any other out there.

12:57 p.m.: Hi, my name is Carrie Yungerberg. I am a critical care paramedic with Willmar Ambulance.

Every day I come to work, I don’t know what to expect. I may be sitting in the office working on projects, I could be transferring a patient to another facility or responding to ambulance calls in the community. The best part of the job is that each day is different, but the same. I can respond to two chest pain calls and the symptoms for each person, the heart rhythm, and history for each are different.

I initially started college to be an ER nurse, but met a paramedic who told me to become an EMT to see if I liked that type of work. After less than a year of being a paramedic I knew that I loved EMS and would be in it for a long time. After being an EMT for nine years I went to paramedic school at South Central College in Mankato. I was fortunate to be able to continue to work with Willmar Ambulance after graduation. I have been with Willmar Ambulance now for 14 years.

Being a paramedic requires you to think on your feet. For example, when you are treating a patient and the heart rhythm changes, you need to be able to change your thinking and “go down another path” to treat the patient appropriately. Another way you have to think on your feet is to change what you think might be wrong with the patient. For example, if we respond to a car accident we need to determine if the patient had an underlying condition that might have caused the accident – for example, a heart attack or chest pain, or did the car accident cause the heart attack/chest pain.

There are days that we don’t have calls during our shift. On those days we have projects that we do in the office. Some of the projects that I work on are bike helmet safety, CPR classes, Sonshine First Aid tent volunteers, maintenance/coordination of patient care reports for the ambulance and maintaining supplies, handouts for community events as well as setting up staff to attend community events and community education such as taping a segment for the WRAC-8 show, “Willmar 911.”

The hospital has CPR classes once a month for their employees. I coordinate the instructors for teaching. Also if a business, church or community organization needs a CPR class, we work with them to set up a class. Along with CPR, I am part of the AED coalition of Kandiyohi County which helps place AEDs in the community at businesses and churches.

Sonshine Music Festival arrives in Willmar every July. Willmar Ambulance maintains the tent with volunteers from Kandiyohi County and throughout the state of Minnesota. We have over 150 volunteers who take time to help in the first aid tent. We use all types of medically trained staff, from paramedics, EMTs, RNs, LPNs and CNAs. There also are doctors and non-medically trained staff that volunteer.

All of our patient charting is now done on computers. We have a specially designed report that we use to document everything from the ambulance call. Part of my job is to make sure these reports make it to the patient medical chart at Rice Hospital. Also to make sure the reports get sent to the Emergency Services Regulatory Board.

Community education and events are also part of the job. We attend events such as National Night Out, Healthy Kids Day, and Family Fun Night and Safety Days. We give tours of the ambulance to Boy/Girl Scouts, daycare centers and preschools.

If it’s not ambulance calls keeping us busy, it’s the boss!!

1 p.m.: Just got a 911 call to a local restaurant, working with the crews right now.

1:25 p.m.: A large percentage of Willmar Ambulance calls are cardiac-related. Signs and symptoms of cardiac events can vary from males to females, but some typical clues are pain or heaviness in the chest that lasts longer than five minutes, pain radiating into arms and/or jaw. Other signs and symptoms can include unexplained shortness of breath, unexplained sweating and nausea.

Willmar Ambulance, along with the other services in Kandiyohi County, has the ability to detect significant cardiac events by being able to perform a 12-lead EKG and transmit the data directly to a physician in the emergency room. Having EMS involved early in a cardiac event has shown up to a 45-minute decrease in time when a person needs to be taken to a higher level of care like a catheterization lab in St. Cloud or the metro.

How 12-lead EKGs came to Kandiyohi County

2:18 p.m.: Our work today continues as we prepare for our open house events tomorrow. Sounds like the weather is going to be great! We hope to see a lot of families come out and enjoy the evening with us!

Oh, and since it’s going to be soooo nice, we will even cook for you!

So reminder, Wednesday 4-7 p.m. at the Willmar Ambulance garage. See more at http://www.willmarambulance.com/.

3:14 p.m.: Hello, my name is Dr. Scott Abrams, emergency physician at Rice Memorial Hospital.

For the last couple of years, I have provided medical direction for the Willmar Ambulance Service. I basically help with the medical decision-making process or “protocol” that we follow in providing care to the community.

I have come to greatly appreciate the level of care provided by Willmar’s emergency medical technicians and paramedics. They consistently provide excellent care to the community and are always working and training to become better. As medical director and as someone who calls Willmar home, I want to know that when I call 911, I’ll be getting rapid, appropriate care. I can say that we absolutely have that kind of care here in Willmar, thanks to everyone who works with the Willmar Ambulance Service.

I’ve also had the privilege of providing medical direction for several of Willmar’s surrounding communities (Sunburg, Kerkhoven, Atwater, Lake Lillian and Raymond). While Willmar has a professional or “paid” service, these communities rely on volunteers to staff their ambulance services. I have been consistently amazed by the number of people that volunteer their time and efforts to be trained and to work on their local ambulance service. It is a credit to them and to their community that these towns have such excellent services. They truly are wonderful people volunteering to do a tough job and I’ve been fortunate to work with them.

3:36 p.m.: Hi, I’m Jim Kroona and the reason the surprise breakfast wasn’t a surprise. Sorry about that, boss, and congrats on 14 years.

I’ve been an EMT with Willmar Ambulance for 13 years and on the County Rescue Squad for 16 years so the pager is always on. A shift for me is on call from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on duty from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Twenty-four hours can go so fast and yet seem so long.

My partner Keith and I started last night with a transfer to Hutch and ended it with a transfer to St. Cloud (which went about 10 minutes before our shift was to end). We had a call where the police assisted us with a patient and did an intercept with Atwater Ambulance. So hardly time to take a lunch break. You learn early on to eat and sleep when you can because you might not have the chance if you wait.

For me it’s about giving back to my home town. Born and raised here and enjoy the sacrifice we make to help those in need.

I have had the joy/terror of delivering a baby in the front seat of a car and the sadness of extricating a relative from his truck as he died.

Please be safe in your day and with what you do. Finally off to bed!! Hope I can fall asleep.

3:51 p.m.: With over 2,600 calls per year, our crews have days of what feels like controlled chaos and some days where it feels like we are just working in the office or the garage.

It typically takes our crews one hour to respond to, transport and do the paperwork on a routine ambulance call. Our service covers 137 square miles within the county and has a response time standard of having to be enroute to calls once dispatched within 90 seconds 90 percent of the time and to be on scene within 10 minutes 90 percent of the time as well.

We use electronic patient care reports so our information about a patient is recorded and uploaded via a secure system where our records are stored and accessible to our hospital health information department as well as our quality control staff. Having the ability to do electronic reports has tremendously helped our service see and respond to our data, from staffing levels to quality assurance.

I tend to still write information on my gloves; old habits are hard to break. Oh, I still enter the data into the electronic system, but other staff members are way better at it than me.

4:33 p.m.: Being paged to a local clinic where someone has fallen, crew responding code 3 now!

4:39 p.m.: Sometimes, depending on the situation, we need to ask for a second ambulance to help on a call. This could be a need for lifting assistance, or because the patient is severely injured and extra hands are required to take care of the patient safely and without causing more harm. We are very fortunate to have backup when we need it to better take care of our patients and help prevent staff injuries when lifting or moving patients in difficult situations.

We communicate with our emergency department nurses and physicians via radio when we are on scene to give them a heads up of what we are dealing with so they can better prepare for the patient coming in. We use portable radios or mobile units within the ambulances. Cell phones are also sometimes used, but radios are simple and are quick access to medical control when needed.

Our reports are quick, with basic important information relayed to the ED about the situation, background and treatments given, as well as asking for any further questions or orders from the doctor in the ESD. We always assess our patient’s vital signs, and depending on the call, may use our cardiac monitor, oxygen, medications or other equipment as needed to make our patient as comfortable as possible and to help ease any pain they have.

4:47 p.m.: Well, as of this posting we have had six calls since midnight, with four of the calls before 7 a.m. It is typical that we have streaks where our main volume of calls comes in on the night shift and some where they come on the day shift.

Our data tells us our busiest times are M-F from 0900-1700 but calls are not always predictable, so to have 24/7 coverage is a must for a town our size.

I will keep you posted until 7 p.m. on what is yet to come. Hope you’re enjoying the weather and the day with the great crews of Willmar Ambulance.

5:41 p.m.: Hello, my name is Jim Bode and I have worked for Willmar Ambulance Service since 1998. I am currently employed as a casual paramedic and also have critical care certification.

Today was kind of a quiet day around here for an ambulance service. When we got to work at 7 a.m. we checked over all the trucks to make sure everything is stocked and ready to go for the day (and night). After truck checks it was time to get something to eat from the cafeteria. Sometimes this does not go as planned; today we got to sit down and enjoy our meal.

After breakfast we went to the garage again and started cleaning it up for the upcoming event tomorrow (come get some hot dogs and see some really cool stuff). After cleaning the garage and running errands around the hospital, we finally decided on lunch, a local pizza joint that is very understanding when we gotta run out the door.

At last we get a call, problem unknown at another restaurant in Willmar. After the run it’s time to restock supplies and clean up the truck for our next run. This usually takes about 15 minutes to get everything in order.

This afternoon was more prep time for tomorrow and enjoying the sunshine which has been missing for some time now. We got a call from the primary crew that they could use some help with a patient they had, so we assisted them on the scene with their requests.

At this time there is nothing more to report on, so everybody stay safe and come see us tomorrow at the ambulance garage.

6:53 p.m.: Well, everyone, not a crazy day and that’s OK! Thanks for hanging out with us and stay safe! This is Brad Hanson signing off for the day.

Thanks to Rice Memorial Hospital for agreeing to participate in a live blog; to Sandra Schlagel, communications coordinator at Rice Hospital, for facilitating this project and providing photos; and most of all to Brad Hanson and the rest of the Willmar Ambulance Service for making it all happen.

7 thoughts on “Everyday heroes

  1. Pingback: Blog: HealthBeat features live blogging by an ambulance crew | North Dakota News

  2. Was it just me, or was that liveblogging just intros from all the staff, not really much “live” stuff going on….

    • Chuck, because of patient confidentiality they can’t give out a lot of details about specific calls.

      I like the introductions. It’s nice to “know” more about just a few of our areas heroes. I’m currently in training to become an EMT and have spent some time riding with our areas crews. They are awesome hard-working professionals of whom I am very proud. Thanks for all you guys do!

    • I really enjoyed the blog. I have been working as an EMT on a volunteer squad for 7 years & this is a good sneak-peek into the life. Not every day is like an episode of ER would lead you to believe. Plus, the intros were a great idea to show just how many people are involved. I never thought of it until becoming a part of EMS how many it does take to provide care to a single patient & in cases of multiple patients how lucky we are to have so many people involved in EMS. Thanks for your time & sharing your experience!

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