Herald JournalHerald Journal, May 19, 2003

EMS week: local people helping others

By Julie Yurek

The pagers sound. Someone needs help. It's time to go.

Many local residents who serve as emergency medical technicians (EMT) or First Responders can experience that scenario day or night, weekday or weekend.

This week celebrates emergency medical services (EMS) week. The theme is "EMS: when it matters most."

Fred Pawelk of Lester Prairie has been an EMT and firefighter for 10 years. He is one of a handful of firefighters who work locally.

He sells ambulances for North Central Ambulance Sales and Service, which is in conjunction with Jerry's Transmission Services.

He is one of two assistant chiefs on the fire department, and is in charge of the emergency medical side of things, he said.

Pawelk joined the fire department because his father, Jerry, was a firefighter and former fire chief.

The fire department encourages its members to become either First Responders or EMTs, Pawelk said.

EMTs can administer more advanced care than a First Responder. A First Responder can stabilize the patient until an ambulance arrives, he said.

First Responders are usually the first on the scene of an emergency.

First Responders abilities include a patient assessment, performing CPR, backboarding patients, splinting bones, administering oxygen, and extracting people from vehicles. They cannot administer drugs.

EMTs are able to perform more difficult pre-hospital medical procedures. They can give nitroglycerin for chest pain, aspirin, nebulizer treatments for asthma, administer intravenous fluids, use defibrillators, and transport patients.

Paramedics can do all the above, plus give medications found in an emergency room, and intubate a patient.

Pawelk chose EMT because he enjoys learning about human anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology, he said.

Pawelk graduated from college as a science teacher, so he likes the sciences.

"I've never regretted it. It is very enjoyable," Pawelk said.

Thankfully, the pagers have been quiet, he said.

There have seemed to be more fires this year, but not as many accidents, he said. The last major accident for the Lester Prairie Fire Department was when Pawelk's friend, Wally Dibb, was dragged by a vehicle at the scene of an accident on Highway 7 in November 2001. Dibb was OK.

There are currently four EMTs on the fire department. The rest are First Responders, he said.

Pawelk also works for Ridgeview Hospital in Waconia as an EMT. He usually works between six and eight 12-hour shifts each month, though the minimum number of required shifts is three, he said.

In order to become an EMT, one must complete 120 hours of classroom work, pass a written exam, and successfully identify critical wounds at testing stations. If even one critical injury is missed at a station, the person automatically fails, Pawelk said.

EMTs and paramedics are tested by the National Registry, said Deb Hatlestad of Winsted. She is a registered nurse (RN) who works in the emergency room (ER) at Ridgeview Hospital.

Hatlestad is also an EMT and works with Pawelk at times. She has been an EMT since 1984, she said.

"I love it," Hatlestad said regarding her work as a nurse and EMT. "I wouldn't do anything else." She's known since she was about 10 years old that she wanted to be a nurse, she said.

The national registry allows standardization of training levels among states, she said.

EMTs from both Lester Prairie and Winsted work for Ridgeview, so sometimes Pawelk stays at the Winsted fire station when he is on call at night or weekends, he said.

Sometimes EMTs from Winsted stay at the Lester Prairie fire department when they are on-call, Pawelk said.

There are also EMTs from Watertown, Waconia, and Cambridge who stay at either the Winsted or Lester Prairie fire station when they are on call, Hatlestad said.

Having the EMTs in the same town mean a quicker response time to a scene, which can mean a big difference to a patient, Pawelk said.

Once in a while, Ridgeview ambulances can be seen driving around. What the EMTs and paramedics are doing is redistributing the ambulances due to being called out.

Ridgeview has five stations it occupies with ambulances: Hamburg-Norwood Young America, Chanhassen, Minnetrista, Watertown, and Winsted-Lester Prairie.

If the Chanhassen, Minnetrista, and Watertown ambulances are called out, the Lester Prairie ambulance will go to Waconia to be in between the two areas, Pawelk said.

All the ambulances except the one in Winsted-Lester Prairie is an advanced life support ambulance. Winsted-Lester Prairie's is a basic life support ambulance, which means there are no paramedics along. When Winsted-Lester Prairie gets a call, a back-up unit of paramedics is dispatched also, Hatlestad said.

However, the ambulance is upgraded to an advanced life support ambulance when Hatlestad is on duty because she is a critical care nurse, which means she is an advanced life support provider, she said. She is not a paramedic, because paramedics go to a full-time one year long course of schooling, she said.

Paramedics are a paid position, while First Responders and EMTs are volunteer positions, she said. EMTs on call get a small hourly rate of less than $2 per hour.

There are currently 17 EMT members serving the Winsted-Lester Prairie area, Hatlestad said.

Ridgeview Hospital will be giving area First Responders pens and police departments a cake, said Hatlestad.

During the summer, Ridgeview EMTs and paramedics get together in the summer for a picnic, she said. "It takes all of us to work together."

Though the Lester Prairie Fire Department is not having any kind of activity for EMS week, the department does incorporate EMS into fire prevention week each fall, Pawelk said.

Department members demonstrate EMS equipment and techniques to Lester Prairie kindergartners, Pawelk said.

The students come down to the fire station to look inside an ambulance and view items such as a backboard, neck brace, and oxygen mask so that if they were ever in a situation where an ambulance were needed, they would be familiar with the equipment.

Teddy bears are stocked in the ambulance and fire trucks to help calm a nervous child or mentally handicapped individual, Pawelk said.

Last spring, during EMS week, the Lester Prairie Fire Department, Lester Prairie Police Department, Ridgeview Hospital, McLeod County Sheriff's Department, and other local agencies participated in a mock crash presented to students at Lester Prairie High School.

Father, son part of EMS team

By Ryan Gueningsman

Think of the absolute grossest, most disgusting thing you have ever seen in your life.

Chances are Greg and Jon Davidson of Winsted have seen 10 times worse. Greg is in his 20th year working for Ridgeview in Waconia as an ambulance driver/ EMT (Emergency medical technician). Jon joined the Winsted Fire Department in November 2002.

"That is the one thing that is most frequently asked on tours and stuff, is 'What is the grossest thing I have ever come across?,'" Greg said. "Thankfully, the real horrific, terrible ones are few and far between."

A majority of an EMT's work is fairly routine, however each day can prove to be something completely different than the one before.

"You could spend one day doing nothing, than the next you could be so busy that you don't get to eat," Greg said.

Greg has lived in Winsted his entire life, graduating from school in Howard Lake. After attending Brown Institute and working in radio for seven years, he wanted a profession change and decided to give EMT life a chance.

"In 1984, I took EMT classes at North Memorial, and started in Winsted as an EMT," Greg said. He also became an orderly at Ridgeview and in 1985-86 went to paramedic school at Century College in White Bear Lake.

Jon is a recent graduate of Alexandria Technical College in engineering, and currently works at SJ&F in Winsted.

He has completed his First Responder training as well as his EMT classes. It was his dad that first recommended that he put in an application for the fire department.

"One of my biggest regrets in life is that I never got involved with the fire department," Greg said. "It is a great way to get to know people in the community outside of your circle of friends, and be able to the help people that you live with at the same time."

For Greg, his schedule can vary day-to-day, but he mainly works out of the "east end stations," ­ Chanhassen, Minnetrista, Watertown, and Norwood Young America on an ALS (advanced life support) ambulance.

The shifts are broken into eight-, 12-, or 16-hour shifts, and are generally assigned based on seniority and which station needs to be filled.

"You never know where you're going to go, where you'll end up, or sometimes even when your day will start," Greg said. "Sometimes you will come upon an accident on the way in."

Ridgeview receives between 450 to 500 calls a month for services, which are spread out between the four stations that he works at.

"A big thing this job does for you, is that you get to learn from other people's mistakes," Greg said. Another part of the job is comforting people and talking to people on the ride to the hospital.

"You really do get to meet a lot of really neat people," he said.

Jon is also finding out that being a firefighter is pretty much what he expected.

"I'm 10 years younger than the next youngest member, but I'm still just one of the guys," Jon said.

The age difference in the profession is something that Greg has noticed, too.

"Most paramedics were all the same age ­ late 40s, early 50s, but now all of the sudden there are people doing it that are young enough to be my kid," Greg said. "It's really interesting to see the age span."

"Don't be afraid to look into the ambulance or fire department if there is any amount of interest in it," he said. "It's really rewarding, and is a great way to make a contribution to the town."

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