County10 spends a day with the Fremont County Ambulance Department
EMT Intermediate Katti Said gets ready to leave the station for a call. Joshua Scheer photo.
EDITOR’s NOTE: This is the personal account of County10.com’s Joshua Scheer’s experience.
(Riverton, Wyo.) – They are a group of a Fremont County employees that interact with thousands of residents every year. They have skills and deal with situations I wouldn’t dream of tackling on my own. So, in order to get a feel for what Fremont County’s Ambulance crews must learn and what they do on a day-to-day basis, Interim Director Todd Smith invited me to spend some time with the department.
Earlier this month I drove out to the Riverton Ambulance station, which is tucked behind Riverton Memorial Hospital.
Smith and I spent the majority of the day in the station’s training room, me earning my CPR certification as well as getting an abbreviated amount of knowledge that Emergency Medical Technicians undergo in basic training and beyond.
Interspersed throughout my training, and the interviews I conducted with him, we would join Riverton First Call and Second Call ambulances on calls for service.
I learned the basic physiological mechanics behind why you do what you do when you perform CPR. I underwent Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) training, which dictates what and how much medical information can be shared with certain parties. (Thus, as I discuss moments from my ride-along the details about the patients must remain vague.)
Currently Fremont County Ambulance has two crews at the ready in each Lander and Riverton at all times, one on-call in Dubois. Each team is made of two individuals; teams work two 24-hour shifts a week. The stations have bunk rooms for crews to sleep in when it’s late and quiet, as well as a kitchen and break room. But when the teams aren’t racing to scenes of medical emergencies or taking patients to the hospital, they’re often working; each team is required to do one hour of training on each shift. They also spend time completing reports from past calls and cleaning the station. Only when all that work is done do they get a break.
This fiscal year the department went to a full-time model, changing the schedule structure. There are 32 full-time employees, not including supervisors and 15 part-timers. A few volunteers are scattered about the outlying areas. Most of these employees are EMT Basics or EMT Intermediates. Only three full-blown paramedics are employed by the county (including Smith), but three others from elsewhere in the state come down and ride on occasion.
EMT Basics must undergo 240 hours of training to get certified. Intermediates must have a year or two of experience along with 50+ more hours of training. And paramedics have even more intense schooling. Each level comes with increased ability and authority to provide care in the back of an ambulance.
“This isn’t a job for everyone,” Smith said, noting you have to be OK with getting blood and vomit all over you.
“It’s almost a driving force to help your fellow man,” he said of why he and others choose this line of work.
In 2012, Riverton crews took 3,086 calls for service; there were 2,296 in Lander, 199 in Dubois, 14 in Shoshoni and four in the Midvale area. Smith said Most areas are on pace to surpass those numbers this year, though Riverton might see a slight decrease. The Lander and Riverton ambulances also provide services to the Wind River Indian Reservation.
I rode with crews on three separate calls. In the First Call rig I rode with Paramedic Mitch Volin and EMT Basic Whitney Green. In the Second Call ambulance, I rode with EMT Intermediate Katti Said and EMT Basic Taylor Apadaca. When a page came in, everyone immediately dropped what they were doing and loaded into the ambulance. The rigs are always prepped; once crews complete a call they replace all the equipment and clean the back of the ambulance so when the next call comes in all they have to do is get there.
Despite the emergent nature of a couple of the calls, there was none of the Hollywood theatrics of shouting orders or panicked demeanors. They spoke calmly with each other, even when the severity of the situation increased while enroute to the hospital.
When dropping patients off at the Emergency Room, there was an efficient exchange of information between the EMTs and ER doctors.
The unpredictability of the job is astounding. In the morning there was a solid block of three hours or so where none of the ambulances in the county were called. However, that afternoon things changed rapidly. As we returned to the barn from one call, another came in and the other ambulance hit the road. And then seconds later the ambulance that just got home was called out again. Suddenly every full-time rig in the county with the exception of Dubois was occupied with car wrecks, chest pains and transports.
The future structure of the Ambulance Department is unclear at this time due to changing budgetary constraints. In a future story, Smith discusses with County10 the complicating factors and potential solutions.
(Joshua Scheer photos. Click to enlarge.)