Osceola County EMS, an invaluable service

OSCEOLA COUNTY – Lounging in an easy chair and watching a sitcom is not an unusual way for Alan Taylor and Lonnie Graham to spend a day at work.

Until a call comes over their radio.

Then the pace at which the emergency medical technician and paramedic move could decide whether an individual lives or dies.

Taylor and Graham are two of 23 emergency healthcare workers who make up the Osceola County Emergency Medical Services - a service invaluable to area residents in an unexpected time of need.

“Nobody wants to think about calling for an ambulance, but when you call, we’re there,” said Ed Nettle, Osceola County EMS director.

In 1974, President Gerald Ford established National EMS Week as a way to honor the dedication of those who provide day to day lifesaving services on the front line of every community. It began as a commemoration in November, but is now celebrated the third week in May, May 20-26.

“EMS workers are invaluable. I think it’s pretty phenomenal what they do with what they’re given,” said Harold Moores, emergency room physician at Spectrum Health Reed City Hospital. “We couldn’t do our jobs without them.”

As the first health care providers to administer care in an emergency, high speed is extremely important for EMS workers. At least two crew members are staffed at three bases around the county at all times, working 24- and 48-hour shifts.

Within an average of four minutes and 22 seconds after a call is received, crews will arrive on the scene of an incident ready to perform life-saving measures.

“I don’t think people know the amount of stress they go through every single day,”Dr. Moores said. “They work straight through when other people are sleeping. That’s an amazing commitment.”

Whether responding to a structure fire, an elderly person falling down or a hostile environment with a gunman, EMS workers must be ready for anything.

“They’re the first line of defense when anything bad happens,” Moores said. “They just get a call to go and they go, no questions asked.”

Osceola County EMS responds to as many as 2,500 calls annually. The department has responded to 138 more calls than in the first quarter of 2011.

At least one EMT and one paramedic must respond to each call, as required by state law. In the case of a large emergency, EMS will drive more than one vehicle - one ambulance and an “echo truck,” - with additional crew for

support.

They also may call surrounding ambulance services as part of a mutual aid agreement to provide necessary care in an emergency.

At the scene of an emergency, ambulance crews cannot make any major decisions without the authorization of a designated hospital physician, such as Moores.

EMTs must radio the doctor explaining the situation and offering recommendations for the next step of care, whether that be to transport the patient to the hospital, stay on the scene until the patient’s condition changes or call in backup ambulances. If a patient faces severe medical or traumatic conditions, the patient may need be transported by helicopter to a larger hospital, such as Spectrum - Butterworth in Grand Rapids or Munson Hospital in Traverse City.

“They are basically our lifeline to the patient because as an ER doctor, I only know what they know,” Moores said. “They’re usually spot on.”

Accuracy in the field is extremely important for EMS technicians, Nettle said, and much of the accuracy comes from many hours of education and training before they ever set foot in an ambulance with just one other crew member.

The basic EMT certification requires a minimum of 194 total hours of education and the specialist level certification requires a minimum of 294.

Paramedics must have 1,024 total hours of education.

Osceola County EMS also requires additional certifications including Basic Life Support, Advanced Cardiac Life Support, Pediatric Advanced Life Support and Pre-Hospital Trauma Life Support.

“You never just get the license and that’s the end, you always have to continue to update (your education),” Nettle said.

Ambulances in Osceola County are housed in the Reed City base near Spectrum Reed City as well as in the Marion and Evart fire department buildings.

On-duty crews are housed at the Reed City base and in the Evart fire department. Marion ambulance crews respond from their personal residences.

Plans are in the works to build new bases which would house ambulance and crew together at more centralized locations in the county.

Osceola County EMS is supported by the county tax payers through a county-wide millage which covers approximately a third of the operational costs of the service. The remaining two-thirds costs are covered by revenue generated by the fees collected for ambulance service.

From the front lines of an emergency to the front door of the hospital, Osceola County EMS is an invaluable service for maintaining the health of anyone who resides in or visits the area.

“The exact same thing that the ER doctor and nurses are going to do in the emergency room, we do in the field, in the living rooms, in the back yards, in the trucks,” Nettle said. “The biggest difference between us and the emergency room is that we’re traveling down the road.”