Pulse taking: Ambulance caregivers pump it upMost people don’t want to know any more about ambulances than they can learn from the outside. They know flashing lights, loud sirens and quick transport.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
Most people don’t want to know any more about ambulances than they can learn from the outside. They know flashing lights, loud sirens and quick transport.
At the same time, nearly everyone considers the service essential.
River Falls Area Ambulance Service Director Jeff Rixmann and Operations Supervisor Holly Mitchell confirm there’s always a lot going on at the station. They agree the service absolutely couldn’t run without the help it gets from the community.
He said a steadily growing number of calls demonstrates the need for upgrades and additions. Rixmann said the service responded to 1,323 calls last year. In 2009, it has already answered 92 more calls than at this time last year.
“The last three years, we’ve broken records,” he said.
After getting the positions approved and budgeted at about $15 per hour for 2009, RFAAS hired two, full-time paid paramedics in February.
Deanne Claypool filled one of the jobs. She lives in Spring Valley and has volunteered for the ambulance service since 2004.
John Oker-Blom filled the other paramedic position. He lives in Woodbury, Minn., and began volunteering at RFAAS in 2007.
Rixmann said both had previous experience before coming to River Falls.
“They’re specifically for weekends,” he said, adding that one works days and one works nights.
He and Mitchell agree that the weekends — 6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Sunday — are a notoriously hard shift to staff. As the service’s only two paid workers, paramedics Rixmann and Mitchell usually took turns manning the weekends.
The new paramedics also cover a Monday or Tuesday shift, do three hours of training each week and work one miscellaneous hour.
The service employs a total of about 45 EMTs, many of whom are also paramedics. The 45 does not include the dozen or so rural First Responder volunteers, who are always needed.
Rixmann says the service got a new ambulance in mid March. It has four vehicles and rotates the oldest one off of the fleet every three years when it gets a new one. The director said the service uses each ambulance for 12 years.
He remembers adding a third in 1999 and a fourth in 2003.
“They were all added due to increased call volume,” he said.
Mitchell said already this year, there have been eight occasions when all four of River Falls’ ambulances were out answering calls at the same time.
Rixmann and Mitchell agree that it’s a mix of tax dollars and community benevolence that enable the service to do its job and enhance services.
For example, the late owner of Melgard Monument, Harry Melgard, left RFAAS a gift to finish equipping the ambulances with advanced-life-support defibrillators.
He remembers the women of the local Moose Lodge bought the service one of its “stair chairs” that help EMTs move patients.
The River Falls Kiwanis Club bought the service pediatric treatment bags that use Broselow System standards. They come with a foldable measuring chart to more precisely measure and treat children 0-12, who come in many different sizes.
The kits’ color-coded equipment corresponds to the chart sizes and comes with airway, trauma, IV and in-bone equipment. They enable an EMT to begin treatment more quickly since they can skip the mental calculations based on the child’s age or an imprecise approximation of their size.
Rixmann said the Kiwanis bought three, and a state grant bought the fourth. “Now all four ambulances have the same equipment for pediatrics.”
A combination Kiwanis/Moose fundraiser (see related story on this page) strives to raise enough money for a Bair Hugger machine.
Rixmann and Mitchell explain it as a disposable blanket that plugs into a machine and fills with warm air to protect patients from hypothermia.
While Wisconsin has its share of dangerous temperatures, the blankets are most often needed while transporting patients who are “under” or whose bodies are unable to regulate their own temperature for whatever reason.
Mitchell said without the portable machine and air blankets, medical technicians keep patients warm using hot packs, lots of blankets and cranking up the ambulance heater.
“It maintains the body temperature,” Rixmann said about the blankets. “It’s just one of those extra tools you can use to prevent further damage to the body.”
Learn more about the RFAAS at its website: www.rfaas.org. Call or e-mail for more information about volunteering: 425-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.