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On EMT week: Helping people on worst day in life

It has started to happen! EMT shortages are occurring throughout most rural communities in Idaho and across the nation. I have been preaching this shortage to county commissioners, legislatures and various boards for at least seven years. I would like to encourage anyone interested to contact their local EMS agency. This has to be addressed at a state level, if not a federal level, to help with recruitment and retention. I would like to take some time here to talk about being an EMT.

First, I would like to state the comments I share here are for every volunteer EMT in Idaho. When I first started as an EMT, I was taught by the administrator of the hospital who was also our CRNA, and he recruited me to work on the ambulance for him. I guess I was an adrenaline junkie, because I soon found out I loved helping people on what, for many, was the worst day of their life. Things were different then and almost every week there was a “Thank You” in the paper to the ambulance crew for their help. As time went by there was less and less of the recognition for the ambulance crew and the time and service they provide seemed to be taken for granted. It is just assumed they call and we will show up … that might not be the case if more people don’t volunteer for EMS.

The EMTs work hard and are very dedicated to community. None of the EMTs who serve do it for the money - it is minimal for the time they volunteer. It is one of the hardest jobs in the medical field. We do not have the luxury of nice heated or air conditioned rooms with excellent lighting and a quiet environment. Our ER department is in a ditch with snow up to our knees at 1:30 in the morning using a few headlamps and flashlights to see by, or on a rattlesnake-infested hillside on White Bird hill on a 50-degree slope with the temp just a little more than 100 degrees in the shade - but there is no shade!

We respond to medical calls of our neighbors and friends in the community, and sometime have to be the one to tell them that there is nothing we can do and their family member is gone. Lonely is the feeling when a mother hands you her 4-month-old child who is gone, but you have to perform CPR on him all by yourself in the back of the ambulance and up two steps at a time to the ED, knowing the outcome already. Crushing is the feeling when you confirm a patient DOA in the field from an auto accident and their body is so disfigured you do not recognize them as your coworker until a piece of body jewelry is recognized. Scary is the scene of a gunshot or stabbing and law enforcement states it is safe to enter, but to keep close to them. Tragic is the night call that seems to happen every four to five years with one to three teenagers being killed in a motor vehicle accident.

The EMTs respond to all types of scenes along highways, in the mountains, jails, homes, and indescribable living conditions on a daily basis. No scene is entirely safe and definitely not sterile.

EMS is not without rewards, though. When a friend or family member comes up to you days, weeks, years later and thanks you again for not only your medical assistance, but kindness, it makes you feel good all over again. It is an exciting field because of the unknown you will find. As RN Steve Frei once said, “Nothing! Not ED, OR or ICU can compare to the challenges you find out in the field.” We do it because we love helping people and hopefully saving lives. We do, however, savor and appreciate the appreciation and slap on the back, and mostly the recognition for serving the community in a very difficult field.

EMTs here at Syringa will be doing more than 500 calls this year, and this does not include all the continuing education we also have to do – more than 54 hours every two years, and I for one am very proud of them. The week of May 17-23 is national EMS week. Please help me recognize these pillars of the community.

Bill Spencer of Grangeville has been an EMT for Syringa Ambulance for 37 years. He is an Advanced EMT and EMT Instructor, currently sits on the Idaho State governor-appointed Time Sensitive Emergency Council, and is vice chair of the North Central Health Coalition.


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