Behind the scenes of the sirens and flashing lights
By Annette Tait
When the tones sound, the call could be anything from an allergic reaction to a vehicle rollover. Ambulance volunteers never know when, or what, or even if there will be a call while they’re on shift.
It’s not like on TV, where the calls are back-to-back, and everything’s exciting. But that’s a good thing. Because when the pager sounds for a volunteer ambulance squad, it’s likely the patient will be a friend or a neighbor.
“People volunteer for the ambulance squad because they care,” Oliver County Ambulance Squad Leader Mickie McNulty-Eide said. “If we didn’t have an ambulance here in Center, it could take an hour or more for the nearest service to reach someone in need.”
Last year, OCA was called out on 68 runs, and served a total of 73 patients. The majority of its calls, 44, were for medical reasons, such as severe illness, chest pain, breathing issues, allergic reaction, or other issues not related to trauma. OCA also responded to 16 trauma calls, for patients who had sustained an injury from a fall, broken a bone, been involved in an motor vehicle or ATV accident, or other physical injury. More than twice as many calls, 47, were within city limits than were in the county, where OCA responded to 21 calls.
There may be two or three calls in the same day, then no more calls for a week or more. Even so, volunteers have to be ready for whatever situation they’re dispatched to. This is done through monthly training sessions during squad meetings, training simulations in the state-of-the-art Simulation in Motion (SIM)-ND training vehicle, and participation in training weekends, classes, seminars, and regional and state conferences.
“In addition to being on call, squad members put in a lot of hours to keep their licenses current,” McNulty-Eide said. “We constantly reinforce our skills, and also learn new or revised procedures as pre-hospital medicine continues to evolve.”
After initial licensure, which takes from 50 hours for emergency medical responders (EMRs) to 150 hours for emergency medical technicians (EMTs), the squad’s EMTs and EMRs are required to complete continuing education hours to recertify every other year with the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians. The NREMT requirements were adopted by the state of North Dakota for licensure of emergency medical personnel.