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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Jamie Ausk Crisafulli photo

Eight EMT students nearly complete training

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

For the first time in nearly a decade, the Glendive Ambulance Service is close to welcoming a new crop of Emergency Medical Technicians into its ranks.

The eight students who have made it through the entirety of the EMT training course to date took their “practical test” last Saturday, March 4. They have already taken their written test required by the state of Montana. The only hurdle remaining to them is a national EMT certification test which they will take online on May 4.

Once that last step is complete, the new EMTs will be ready to take their place serving on local ambulance calls. As it has been some eight years or so since the Ambulance Service has been able to run a local EMT training course, according to co-director Todd Opp, the soon-to-be-certified new EMTs will be a welcome addition to the ranks.

“We’ve had some people move to town who had their (EMT) license and we were able to get them onto the service, but this is the first group we’ve been able to run through a course since probably 2009,” Opp said.

As the existing group of local EMTs has aged, moved or had responsibilities in their own lives take precedence, the number of them available to go out on ambulance calls has been shrinking. The ambulance service currently has 12 EMTs on its roster, but Opp noted it is becoming more difficult to fully staff the service’s ambulances when called upon. 

“We have a quite a few people on the roster, but the number that are consistently active has gone down quite a bit over time,” Opp said.

The service stays quite busy and has a constant need for EMTs to be on call. In 2016, the service went on 614 calls. About two per day is the average, but sometimes it’s more. Just this Wednesday, the ambulance was called out five times.

The reason Glendive hasn’t run its own EMT course in years is a simple matter of how increasingly difficult it is to run the training in compliance with ever more robust and complex state and federal regulations. Opp said it wouldn’t even be possible anymore without the support of local stakeholders like the city and Glendive Medical Center, adding that “it takes a village” anymore to be able to run an EMT training course.

Opp added that even the level of commitment and training it takes for veteran EMTs just to teach an EMT training course these days “was a new awareness” for himself and fellow Ambulance Service co-director Mary Jo Gehnert. (Gehnert was out of town on vacation and unavailable for comment.)

“I would argue you guys put in just as many hours as we did,” EMT trainee Shauna Sargent said to Opp.

The amount of medical knowledge EMT trainees are required to learn has also “gone up significantly” since the last time Glendive ran an EMT course, Opp said, making it doubly difficult for those who enter it to complete it. When the course began in October, there were 15 people signed up for it, but half have dropped out since then.

“That is pretty typical,” Opp said. “We see quite a few (drop-outs). Once they see what the commitments and the expectations are, they tend to self-select out.”

Sargent and fellow EMT trainee Erin Kaufman both said they had times where they seriously considered dropping out of the course, but ultimately determined to soldier on. Sargent in part credited her sticking with it to simple “stubbornness,” but both she and Kaufman said having the support of their families and employers really helped make the difference, a theme Opp echoed.

“I think a lot of what helps is the support they get at home,” Opp said. “And that carries over into their EMT career. That support from home and from your employees makes it possible.”

In larger cities, being an EMT is a full-time job, but here in Glendive, it is a part-paid volunteer position with which those who do it must be willing and able to drop what they’re doing at work or at home at the drop of a hat. Opp noted that most ambulance calls come during the middle of the workday, which is also the hardest time to find available EMTs, so he and the trainees said the compliance of local employers is absolutely critical for the Ambulance Service.

“I really think the employers who do let their employees go to serve in this capacity really need to be given some credit,” Sargent said.

As for why they personally decided to train to become EMTs, Kaufman, who works at WATCh East, said she was inspired in part by her experience with her own mother, who had been afflicted with a long illness.

“I’ve always wanted to be in that field, and when I saw the class I decided I would check it out,” Kaufman said. “And with my mom being sick all the time, I thought I’d check it out.”

Sargent, who also serves as a volunteer firefighter for the West Glendive Fire Department, said she took the training to make her a more effective first responder.

“I wanted to do it because of my role on the fire department,” she said. “I didn’t ever want to be in the position where I didn’t have the skills to help somebody.”

Opp, for his part, is proud of the dedication all the remaining EMT trainees have shown as they near the end of the training. He did note that Kaufman and Sargent are particularly emblematic of the level of dedication and commitment it takes to become and serve as an EMT. Sargent gave birth to a new baby after the training course began and Kaufman’s mom passed away just recently, right before her testing, but both endured and are poised to earn their certification.

“We encountered so much as a group, life, death ...” Kaufman began.

“... and everything in between,” Opp ended.

The EMT trainees are: Shauna Sargent, Erin Kaufman, Jerrit Schmierer, Mary Burman, Lamarr Boehm, Wyatt Kueker, Joel Gramm and Deb Schwartz.

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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