Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, January 18, 1999

Volunteer EMTs needed for area ambulance service

By Luis Puga

For any community, a shortage of EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) is not a good deficit to run.

Often times, the EMTs are the first ones on the scene of an accident. They may maintain a patient until paramedics arrive or they may end up transporting the patient themselves if the paramedics are being called to other accidents.

However, Ridgeview Ambulance Service of Waconia, needs more volunteer EMTs for the service that covers Winsted out of the fire department.

Presently, the service has approximately 13 EMTs and the director of ambulance at Ridgeview, Darel Radde, said he would like to have about 20 volunteers on staff.

Radde said, "We would like to have some more people from the community who are interested in giving back to the community in a very unique way."

While community service may be typically classified as organizing food drives or participating in fund-raising (all very commendable actions), the EMTs go above and beyond those activities, saving lives.

On top of calls, there are also constant updates in training. On the dry erase board in the fire department's meeting room, a note to the staff reminds them of a refresher course for CPR.

Nineteen year veteran EMT Ruby Sanftner said the note is actually for the fire department, but another EMT, Joy Wiemiller, said that their retraining was just last week.

There are also changes in state laws and in health care which require updated training for volunteers. Radde said that Minnesota has just begun to allow EMTs to distribute some medications, so that training will have to occur.

In general, EMTs must also be prepared to drop what they are doing to respond to calls. Each EMT has his or her own life and job. Wiemiller works as a dispatcher for the ambulance service, while Sanftner works at St. Mary's as the service director. Another EMT, Bernie Lueck, works at Millerbernd. All of them agreed that their employers have been very supportive of their decision to be EMTs, and Radde is thankful that the businesses are supportive.

Of course, that gets back to community. Each EMT basically responded the same when asked why they joined. They wanted to help people in their community.

Said Samftner, "To me, it's very rewarding. I wanted to be committed to the community I live in, because I feel you get connected with the community."

The other EMTs have their own reasons for joining. Wiemiller's enjoys meeting people in her community, and Lueck feels that he participates positively in his hometown.

Motivations aside, Radde admitted that being an EMT is not for everybody. He said, "The EMT [position] is a big commitment and it is rather demanding, because you are on call. . . .

"Anytime of the day or the night, you gotta get up, go out on call. Usually you are gone for an hour-and-a-half to two hours." This can be taxing on a person who may not be ready for it, Radde feels.

The EMTs also have the onus of holding other people's lives in their hands. Mistakes can be "catastrophic" as Radde said, and the responsibility is high. All the EMTs agree that the first call is tough, even though they are supervised by veteran volunteers. And calls, like the fire departments, can be dangerous whether it be suicide watch or an accident on a busy highway.

EMTs should not be confused with paramedics though. The area is staffed with paramedics in ALS (Advanced Life Support) ambulances, but they cover a wide berth.

That's where the EMTs come into play. In Winsted, they serve the city proper, Winsted Township, Hollywood Township, Lester Prairie, and New Germany.

Of course, they will support other areas out of their area if they are called to do so, because other crews are busy at other accidents sites or they just happen to be the closest truck at the time.

The EMTs train at classes provided by Ridgeview in their educational department. They attend classes for about 130 hours, and then commit to three to five months of ride-alongs with veterans. They are then expected to commit to at least two shifts a month as an unwritten standard. They can also, at times, be called to cover for their fellow volunteers.

With the time commitment both to being on call and for training, being an EMT is a big responsibility. But Radde reiterated its importance when he said, "This is part of the bigger picture of delivering care. The closest hospital is about 25 miles away and the closest ALS ambulance service is 12 miles from here.

"And so, by having these folks in the community, they are able to get on the scene in four minutes. . . . If they weren't here, they'd [the patients] be waiting anywhere from 12 to 20 minutes for an ALS ambulance to come."

If you would like to volunteer to be an EMT, call Bernie Lueck at 320-485-4794. The next training course begins in February and runs for 10 weeks. The classes, which are free, are on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6:30 p.m. ­ 7:30 p.m at Ridgeview Medical Center, Waconia.

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