Community service: Jutting retires after 42 years on Westbrook Ambulance crew
WESTBROOK -- It's hard for Dennis Jutting to stay put when he hears there's been an accident or someone is in need of emergency medical services.
"There have been several calls during the day, and I think, 'I should get out there.' I want to go see if I can help," Jutting said.
It's an instinct that has been honed well in 42 years of serving on the Westbrook Ambulance crew. But Jutting recently retired from the ambulance service, and it's someone else's turn to respond to the crisis, whatever it may be.
A native of Revillo, S.D., Jutting happened to wander into Westbrook while searching for a job -- and he found a career.
"When I got out of high school, I got drafted right away and spent a year in Vietnam, in the infantry," he explained. "I'd heard there was a job opening here, so I stopped through on my way to Fairmont. A couple of weeks later, I was back here working."
Jutting was hired in October 1968 by the city of Westbrook as a lineman. Five years later, he was promoted to the post of utility manager and has been serving in that capacity ever since.
He also started with the ambulance crew shortly after moving to the Cottonwood County community.
"In 1969, I started taking the advanced Red Cross classes and got hooked on that," he recalled. "I was new in town, and it was a good way to get to know people, and I just kept it up for this many years."
In his initial training class, there were about 130 people -- a very large class, he remembered -- and the skills they learned were pretty basic, even though the course was considered "advanced" at the time. The equipment the crew utilized was quite basic, too.
"We didn't have an ambulance yet," he said. "We'd get out the rescue van from the fire department. Utilities bought an ambulance a couple of years later. ... Everything was primitive medicine, compared to today. We didn't have all the equipment. ... It used to be just load 'em up and go."
Serving on an ambulance crew takes a certain type of disposition -- calm under pressure, not squeamish -- and Jutting "got initiated pretty good" to extreme situations during his service in Vietnam. Still, the adrenaline would pump and he would be nervous on the way to a call, although that feeling diminished over the years.
"There, for a while, the biggest problem was, a call would come in and you'd go to the rig and you wouldn't know what you were going to deal with," he explained. "Now, with 911, you know more before you get there."
In his opinion, vehicle and farm accidents are the worst to deal with. Two serious motor vehicle accidents involving young kids stick out in his mind as among the worst he encountered.
"It's hard, getting to the scene, seeing what's there," he reflected. "On the way to the scene of an accident, my mind would be going 100 miles an hour and my heart would be pounding, but I'd always be able to calm myself when I got to the scene" and do what needed to be done.
The Westbrook Ambulance initially brings patients to the Sanford Westbrook Medical Center, but depending on the severity of the problem, the ambulance may also be involved in transferring them to a larger medical facility, usually in Sioux Falls, S.D. There have been a few memorable transfers, too.
"This one winter, we took a woman to Sioux Falls," Jutting related. "We left here at 10 in the morning and got back at 10 at night. We were driving 15 mph in this awful blizzard. By the time we got to South Dakota, they had pulled the plows off the road. I don't know how we made it the last 10 miles."
Jutting occasionally runs into that female former patient, and they always commiserate about that terrible trip.
"When people are sick, they're glad to see you," he said. "When they get better, it's good to be able to stand back and laugh about it a little bit."
In addition to the ambulance service, Jutting also served on the Westbrook Fire Department for many years, hanging up his fire helmet in 1999. Although they do get paid for calls, both the fire department and ambulance services are still "volunteer" positions and require a lot of time and dedication. In addition to being called out at all hours of the day and night, there are regular meetings and training sessions.
"You have to take the 88-hour EMT (emergency medical technician) course to begin with," Jutting detailed about the ambulance requirements. "Then you have to take a 24-hour refresher course every other year. We train at every meeting."
Currently, there are 16 people on the Westbrook Ambulance service. Because he works for the city and his office is just a block from the ambulance garage, Jutting is one of the first people there when the pager goes off during the day.
"I did mostly days the last couple of years I was on," Jutting noted. "People who work during the day usually do the night shifts. Then, every third weekend you're on call. We used to be on for a week at a time, which was really tough -- on for a week and then three weeks off."
Fellow crew members are usually quite accommodating when a person needs time off, Jutting added.
"You can always move it around," he said, referring to the schedule. "You can always find somebody willing to work for you."
But it's gotten to the point where Jutting wants to have a bit more time off to watch his grandchildren participate in sports. He and wife Gayle have two daughters -- one an accountant who works for a medical company, the other a registered nurse -- and four grandchildren, three boys and a girl.
"And I've got a boat that's seven or eight years old that hardly has any hours on it," said Jutting about his lack of leisure time. "I'm either been on call for the city or the ambulance."
But Jutting has no regrets about the hours he's put into community service.
"I've enjoyed every run," he reflected. "There's good ones, and there's bad ones, but you pick something up from every run you're on, gain a little more knowledge, and then you come back and discuss it."
Jutting has particularly enjoyed the medical knowledge that he has accumulated, and in another lifetime might have contemplated a full-time career in the medical field. But most of all, he's enjoyed being able to help his friends and neighbors in their time of need.
"The rewarding part is walking down the street, seeing somebody you've worked on and talking to them or having them come up and thank you for being there for them," he said. "It's all in the heart, if you love what you're doing. It's just a nice feeling to be able to talk to them later on."
A reception to honor Dennis Jutting for his 42 years of service to the Westbrook Ambulance will be from 1 to 4 p.m. April 3 at the Westbrook Community Center.