Dec. 4 , 2006

Former Dassel man specializes in treating crush injuries

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Chris Piepenburg, a Dassel native, became a firefighter, technical rescue specialist, and instructor in Denver.

Piepenburg is a 1991 graduate of Dassel Cokato High School and the son of Nancy and Mike Piepenburg of Dassel. He also is a third-generation firefighter.

“All his life, all he wanted to do when he grew up, was be a fireman and paramedic. He has accomplished his dream and more,” his mother said.

Not only does Piepenburg work as a firefighter/paramedic with South Metro Fire Rescue, a suburban fire department on the south side of Denver, but he also is a specialist in trench, structural collapse and confined space rescue. He is a medical specialist on the Colorado urban search and rescue task force, which is a FEMA sponsored organization, specially trained to respond to large incidents and disasters, such as hurricanes and earthquakes.

Piepenburg recently had an article published in the September 2006 “Fire Engineer” magazine. The article is called “Prehospital Management of Crush Injuries.” Crush injuries have different criteria than other injuries. A crush victim can die after rescue, even though he is conscious and his vital signs are within normal limits, Piepenburg said.

Piepenburg defines a crush injury as a part of the body that is subjected to a high degree of force or pressure, usually after being squeezed between two heavy or immobile objects.

“The damaged muscle tissue produces and releases many toxins that can have detrimental effects on the body,” Piepenburg said in the article.

Also, the crushing force acts as a dam to prevent the toxins from being released into the body. Once the victim is rescued, though, the toxins flood into the victim’s body all at once, causing a multitude of problems, he added.

Piepenburg then outlines how paramedics can recognize right away whether it is a crush injury and how the victim will be treated at the scene. He told how a street sweeper in Los Angeles was rescued from a collapsed parking garage, crushing his legs, after an earthquake in 1994. Paramedics aggressively treated him for crush injuries at the scene. Not only did the street sweeper live, but later, also walked with assistance.

In addition to teaching other paramedics how to assess and treat crush injuries, his specialty, Piepenburg goes out on eight to 10 calls per day with the South Metro Fire Rescue, he said.

After Piepenburg graduated from DC, he spent three years in the Air Force, stationed in Hawaii.

When he left the Air Force, he moved to Colorado to get a degree in fire science.

From 1995 to 1997, he was a reserve firefighter with a small department on the north side of Denver. He worked as a full-time firefighter for Union Colony Fire Rescue in Greeley, Colo. from 1997 to 2001. Piepenburg attended paramedic school in 1998.

He started work with South Metro Fire Rescue in August of 2001, and is assigned to a medic company in the Denver Tech Center.

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