We pass them on the highway, in stores or church. We always expect them to be there, but hope to never need them. When the call comes in, they rush to respond, leaving their jobs, families or friends. They do one of the most difficult jobs in Lincoln County. They are our local Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), and they are all volunteers.
It is Christmas morning, and families are joining together in front of fireplaces, ready to share another year?s holiday memory. It?s a white Christmas with snow all around and still coming down. As a family laughs in holiday spirit, someone?s pager goes off. A vehicle has slid off the road in the blizzard between Caliente and Panaca. It?s gone through the guardrail, and there is a family trapped inside. Responders arrive at the scene and find the family in the car, upside down. They jump into action, getting the victims pried from the vehicle. Once they rescue a little girl inside, she gasps in excitement at the sight of the lights, ambulances and fire trucks. The girl clings to her rescuer and says, ?Oh, thank you. I love fire trucks.?
Lincoln County has the longest-running ambulance service in the state of Nevada. Pioche had the first ambulance in the county: a big Travelall with the seats ripped out and equipment put in. The county has grown to host three separate ambulance entities: Lincoln County Ambulance Services (Pioche, Eagle Valley, Ursine), Meadow Valley Ambulance Services (Panaca, Beaver, Caliente) and Pahranagat Valley Ambulance Services (Alamo, Ash Springs, Rachel, Hiko).
Because of the lack of volunteers, most local fire-fighting crews have obtained their First Responder?s license to help answer emergency calls. They help figure out what equipment will be used or needed and are a great asset for loading patients when only two or three EMTs are available.
To become an EMT means to first volunteer 110 hours of class time, learning procedures and techniques, along with other emergency training. Then, volunteers must pass a national test, both in practical and written responses. They must demonstrate on different levels their knowledge of emergency situations. No one taking the test will know if they passed until the end. ?It?s quite intensive, definitely not easy,? says Ryan Rhodes, EMT Coordinator for Pahranagat Valley, ?but, if you study and read, you?ll be fine.?
Last year, Pahranagat Valley was recognized for their testing abilities, passing five students – a unique accomplishment recognized by the state.
But the training doesn?t end there. In order to ride in the ambulance and be an official volunteer EMT, one must then receive the Ambulance Attendant?s license.
It?s late at night, and a mid-size pickup carrying 16 people in the bed is travelling down US Highway 93. The vehicle swerves violently. Called ?coyotes,? these people are runners, transporting immigrants across the border. Most likely the driver has fallen asleep and the vehicle drifts to the shoulder. It might have been the collision with the guardrails that jerks him awake. He overcorrects and the vehicle rolls over with everyone inside. Responders arrive and immediately notice there are two deceased. Two more are severely injured and need amputations. The fatality team from Las Vegas is called in, and all traffic both directions is shut down.
Covering everything from the Clark County line on Highway 93 to Pahroc, Delamar Valley, sometimes up to Nye County and many miles down Nevada SR 318, Pahranagat Valley volunteers have, ?a sense of community here,? says Rhodes. The service initially offered reimbursement to the PV EMTs, but it stopped because of the abuse of the system. ?The people who really cared, stayed,? said Rhodes. He admits, ?It?s a much smaller crew, but we?ll do anything.?
One of the advantages to the Pahranagat Valley services is the fact that there are a few Alamo residents employed in Clark County as a firefighters. A deal from the state allows them to serve on emergency calls also.
The Pahranagat Valley EMTs are Kitten Higbee, Ken Maxwell, Trish Schofield, VeraDell Leavitt, Sherrie Barker, Rhodes, Julie Hansen, Ross Stirling, Brooke Foremaster, Sharee Perkins, Jamie Jewett, Jeanna Canfield, Toni Connell, and from Clark County, Brandon Stirling, Vernon Bunker, Steve Meldrum, Kellon Walch and Lonny Walch. Lonny Walch also runs the PV fire crews in addition to being a Clark County firefighter.
Rhodes says their first responsibility is to get people to the hospital alive. EMTs evaluate what intervention is needed, how urgent it is and how many need care. Some of their emergencies have taken up to as many as three helicopters to transport.
?Sometimes we can go six to eight weeks without a call. Lately, it seems we?ve been getting one-to-two a day,? says Rhodes.
It?s 3 a.m. A full van is traveling along Highway 93. It wanders off the road and swerves to get back on the pavement. At the same time, a semi-truck traveling in the opposite direction smashes into the van. One passenger is all that is visibly left among the wreckage. The only survivor of the accident is an elderly grandmother. Her pregnant daughter and four children have all died. EMTs take the bodies where they need to go. Later, the EMTs have a debriefing.
With the amount of highway miles they have to cover, the PV Ambulance Service sees a higher number of vehicle-related accidents – around 60 percent. The other 40 percent is medical emergencies. Comparatively, the northern ambulance services report a 50/50 ratio.
When situations are terribly tragic, EMTs have a debriefing, where they talk about what transpired. ?We tell our responders, if they can?t handle the situation, to turn around and walk away. We don?t need another patient,? Rhodes says.
The small town of Rachel sits 50 miles northwest of Alamo, and there are no medical services there, much less emergency services. Responders really have to rush to get to Rachel. Rhodes said one of the bad things is that it takes time to get a crew together, to go to the ambulance barn, and then finally get to the scene.
The president of the Meadow Valley Ambulance Association is George Rowe, who also is chief of the Caliente Fire Department. Meadow Valley covers everything from Pahroc Summit to Panaca. Sometimes, Rowe reports, they even travel to Geyser.
Rowe helped form the association in the 80s as a way to provide more service to the county. With ambulance service only coming from Panaca, the wait time could be crucial in a life-or-death situation. ?I figured the only way to help is to get involved,? says Rowe.
Meadow Valley has five EMTs in Caliente: Ann Smith, Reuben Rowe, Randy Rowe, WJ Miller and George Rowe; and seven in Panaca: Jason Bleak, Kathy Bingley, Beau Carlson, Eric Holt, Torrie Klomp, Ginger Shumway and Steffanie Thornock. The EMT Coordinator for Meadow Valley is Ann Smith. Smith has been a dedicated volunteer to medical services for 23 years. ?I count the number of years by my children?s ages,? she says with a chuckle. Smith always had a fascination for medical services. After waiting with a neighbor who was ill for 20 to 30 minutes for an ambulance to arrive, she saw a need for more ambulances. ?I wanted to help,? she says.
The EMT crew is much smaller now than when Smith started. ?A lot of people moved away; some got burned out or let their licenses go. There was a really bad accident one time, and some had to go after that.?
Smith has experienced a broad spectrum of emergencies. She has been on calls for snake bites, train collisions and wolf attacks, but she hasn?t delivered a baby as of yet.
Along with being the EMT instructor for all newcomers, she keeps up her license. EMTs renew their license every two years with continuing education units. ?When I start a class, I tell them I?m training them to act in a situation. My goal is for you to act on anything, and react when it?s done,? says Smith.
Smith describes the paperwork after emergency calls. It?s tedious and intensive, to say the least. ?You have to describe the scene, the time, report all the vitals, and it all has to be done within 24 hours.?
It?s late at night, and a responder is awakened by the page. A car has rolled over, and they need to rescue the driver. After arriving on the scene however, EMTs can?t locate a body. The driver has been ejected from the vehicle, and isn?t easy to find in the dark wilderness. Finally, he is located. Rescuers find no signs for revival, no pulse. The victim is DOA (dead on arrival).
A rising trend is the number of younger people involved in emergencies compared with the large amount of retired citizens that reside in the county. A high number of calls go to drug and alcohol-related emergencies. For many of the patients, their health is already poor.
One of the bigger frustrations for EMTs are the ?non-emergency? calls – calls that are not life-threatening or serious. They receive a high number of ?drunk calls,? calls for domestic disputes and for citizens who can?t make it to bed. Some calls are for people who need to be taken to the hospital for a doctor?s appointment , like the ambulance is a taxi service. Others call for a fever.
?People act like it?s expected. Some people abuse their bodies. They?re [physically] so depleted, and they don?t have friends or family anymore to help,? says Smith.
Missie Rowe, Ambulance Administrator and Chief Operating Officer for Grover C Dils Medical Center, sees a number of these non-emergency calls. ?We realize someday you?re going to need that service, but don?t abuse it. When you need them, you?re going to want them there,? she says.
Smith asks herself if she has become ?hardened? as the number and types emergencies continue to grow. She says that for every half hour she goes on calls in the middle of the night, it takes another hour to go back to sleep.
It?s a day for traveling, and a mother drives with her three children in the car. In a tragic accident, the family is in need of emergency services. Two of the children die at the scene. The mother is transported to the hospital and later dies from her injuries. The sole survivor is the youngest child.
The oldest, longest-running ambulance service in Nevada, Lincoln County Ambulance Services, could be in jeopardy of going under due to lack of volunteers. Currently, volunteers in Pioche number three: Aaron Boyce, Teri Hansen and John Reich, and both Boyce and Reich are firefighters. With a low number of medical personnel, the EMTs in Pioche greatly rely on the assistance of the volunteer first responder firefighters.
?We wish we could get more people involved,? Local Emergency Planning Coordinator Rick Stever says.
Bill Lloyd served 44 years as an EMT and 42 years with the Fire Department. He started in 1966, and said that then, ?the ambulance ran from Tempiute, and only first aid was taught by Rex Bentley.?
The Lincoln County Ambulance Service runs north on the US Highway 93, and Lloyd remembers going all the way to Crystal Springs on one occasion.
It?s early in the morning and two trailers ram each other head on. The page goes out and EMT services arrive along the highway. A mess of metal, glass, rubber and smoke are all that is observed. They help all the victims, get them loaded on gurneys and in the ambulance to the hospital. Everyone is assisted. A tow truck arrives to remove the remnants of the vehicles. After hauling off a trailer in the pile, they discover a body still in the wreckage.
Firefighters have been assisting the emergency crews since the 70s, when certification started to be required. ?Most firefighters didn?t want to be certified. Only four or five stayed on with the ambulance,? Lloyd says.
?You get to save a lot of lives,? he adds. About one out of every ten emergency patients, though, does not survive.
?You feel really bad for a day or two, but then you get another run and forget all about it,? says Lloyd.
Emergency technicians speak of ways to reduce the risk of being involved in an emergency. Not driving drunk is the most prevalent response. Taking medication as prescribed and following through when a doctor suggests ?regular checkups? will also help cut down on emergencies. People spend lots of money on prescriptions, doctor appointments and flu shots, but will spend more by not doing what the doctor says and having to pay for an ambulance later.
With the miles of highway our county services cover, a high number of vehicle accidents are reported. A high percentage are injured worse by not wearing seatbelts. Story after story reports people being ?ejected from the vehicle.?
Rowe reports there are a high number of obese people in Lincoln County. It is difficult to get in and assist them. One time, it took six Meadow Valley EMTs to lift a man on the gurney. The day after, they received an automatic gurney, but volunteers still have to lift victims into the ambulance.
Less than one percent of the county are certified EMTs. Missie Rowe reports 95 percent of those volunteers have full-time jobs, are parents, have church responsibilities, and usually are volunteering somewhere else. ?Everyone wears more than one hat,? she says.
It?s a pleasant day and motorists flood the highway with vacation in mind. A lovely elderly couple is headed to Las Vegas in a motor home. The husband decides to rest and take a nap while the wife takes the wheel. Shortly into her leg of the trip, something happens to the wife and the trailer runs off the road and wrecks. Emergency personnel arrive as she explains to them she had to go to the restroom while she was driving and turned on the ?auto pilot.? As soon as she sat on the commode, the trailer went off the road. The woman had engaged the cruise control.
The decline of volunteers is apparent everywhere, from the firemen to assisting seniors, all across the nation. In this county, it could be the difference between life and death.
EMT volunteers have to be creative and think on their toes. On one occasion, former EMTs John Etchart and Lloyd had to take a patient all the way to Ely, and they had to hold her neck in place the entire time. Even though there were braces, the slightest movement could have caused paralysis. Lloyd said when they arrived in Ely, they ?nailed her to a board? to keep her from moving.
Another situation saw ?one guy that was getting doped up, and we?d have to tie him down and sit on him just to get him to the hospital,? says Lloyd.
While situations have victims DOA, sometimes, there are victims who die en route to the hospital. On one such occasion, George Rowe was with a victim en route, and was holding the patient?s hand when she passed away. ?You hope you never have to do it,? Rowe says.
?It?s really bad if you have to pick up a friend,? says Lloyd. He recalls one of his best friends who was involved in a fatal accident. The friend pushed his child into the floorboard of the car to save the child?s life, sacrificing his own.
Calls can be quite emotional dealing with a community as small and close as ours. It?s difficult to imagine the feeling of having to tell a friend that they?re loved one is dead or see a friend in need and not be able to help.
However, as resident Rodney Mehring puts it, ?It was a great comfort to have a familiar face in the ambulance with me.? Mehring was taken to St. George, and Smith was one of his responders.
They are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week – rain, sleet, snow or shine. They don?t seek recognition, fame or glory. They offer their time selflessly for the entire county to be served. You might never know how bad you need them until you need them. They are our neighbors, our friends.
If you are wondering if you want to be an EMT, contact a representative. Classes are offered twice a year.
?Every once in a while, you get to save a life, and that?s pretty cool,? says Rhodes.
It?s a late weeknight evening. A young couple is going home after a night of fun, and catch the curb on a turn. The vehicle rolls over a dozen times, ejecting one of the passengers. EMTs are quick to arrive at the scene and find the ejected passenger unconscious and unresponsive. There are no others injured. They take her to Grover C. Dils, where she is then life-flighted to UMC in Las Vegas. The patient rehabilitates in Las Vegas and returns to reside in Lincoln County. Eight years later, she works for the Lincoln County Record, and humbly gives the most grateful thanks to the two EMTs that answered the call that night to her life-threatening situation. Chilsea Jewett and Bill Lloyd, I thank you.
This article originally appeared in?Lincoln County Magazine.?Visit a local store to pick up your copy.