Fulda Community Ambulance a true local effort: Team comprised of 17 certified EMTs, two drivers
FULDA -- What do you get when you put a few medical professionals, a retired cop, a grocery store clerk, a truck driver, a couple of farmers and a telephone guy in a room together? The Fulda Community Ambulance crew, of course.
With 17 certified Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) and two drivers, the people who make up the Fulda Ambulance team come from a variety of livelihoods and backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common -- they are committed to saving lives and helping people.
"Control One to Fulda Ambulance, you have a call to 810 St. Paul Avenue for an 80-year-old female who is complaining of chest pain and is having a hard time breathing."
With that pager message from Murray County's dispatch, no matter what time of day, how cold it is outside or whether or not dinner just came out of the oven, three people in Fulda head out the door and rush to the ambulance garage.
A broken leg, a heart attack, a child hit by a car, a diabetic reaction or a person injured in a car crash. The reasons for the call vary -- the patient or patients behind the call is the main concern to this group of dedicated EMTs.
The Fulda Ambulance is assigned a certain coverage area on a dispatch map, but when large catastrophic events occur, those territorial lines can go away quickly. During an ammonia leak at JBS Swift in Worthington, the Fulda Ambulance was one of several transport vehicles called in to help assess patients and transport them to area hospitals. If Murray County's ambulances are called out, the Fulda Ambulance is put on alert as backup, or may cross into Murray County's territory to pick up patients.
Many of the small towns in the area have first responder or rescue units, but the majority do not transport patients unless there is a catastrophic event.
Joan Kolander, the Fulda Ambulance team's leader, has been involved with the Fulda Ambulance for more than 20 years. Lyle Kramer has been part of the crew since 1993. Jim Beeck got involved because his mother was one of the charter members in the early 1980s.
"It's about community service," Beeck stated.
They each have their own reasons for wanting to be a part of the team. For Abi Noerenberg, it's a family tradition.
"My mom and dad were both EMTs," she said. "I can remember them both running out of the house at all hours of the night."
Others admit they like the adrenaline, being part of the team and knowing they are serving a vital role in their community, even if that role can lead to heartache at times. But experiencing the trauma or deaths of community members is sometimes part of the job, and the team members help each other through the sadness. Afteraction reviews and an internal support system helps get them through it.
"We look out for each other," stated Kolander.
Getting through the difficult times occasionally calls for a bit of humor that an "outsider" may not understand, but anyone who has ever been involved in a responder crew might recognize immediately. For instance, the crew knows and finds it quite funny that if anyone gets vomited on, it will likely be Stacie or Abi. Anyone who wants to know why Heidi should not be left alone with an Epipen will have to ask her personally.
The group laughs a lot, but takes their business very seriously. They meet once a month, drill regularly, quiz each other on medical knowledge and re-certify on a variety of subjects on a state-mandated schedule. Each EMT attended a 110-hour class initially, rode along with certified squads during training, then did a 12-hour shift in a Sioux Falls, S.D., hospital emergency room before he or she was ready to join a squad.
The Fulda Ambulance crew consists of six squads of three people each. Each squad is on call for a 12-hour shift for several days in a row, with the schedule filled out a year in advance. If an individual has plans, he or she simply checks with another EMT and gets their shift covered.
It may sound complicated, but according to Kolander, the scheduling pretty much takes care of itself.
Many of the EMTs work outside of town during the day, so they stick to the night shifts. Since the day shifts are a little tougher to cover, there are two drivers, each assigned to a squad with two certified EMTs. Jim Troje, one of the drivers, is a retired St. Paul police officer. He isn't a certified EMT, but has first responder knowledge because of his past career. He moved to Fulda after retirement to be near family and is happy to be able to help out in his adopted community.
"I like being involved -- being a part of it," he said.
In a small community where everyone knows everyone else, EMTs know they will come face to face with life and death situations involving friends, neighbors, even family members. That's just part of the job.
"Sometimes you hear a page to certain address and know what to expect," said Vicki Canfield.
"And when people know you, it makes them more comfortable," Troje added.
But recruiting and keeping people on the crew isn't an easy task, according to Kolander.
When it comes to recruiting new members, some people know they can't handle what they will likely experience on certain ambulance calls. Not everyone is cut out to respond to vehicle crashes, farm accidents and other situations involving blood, people in pain or high stress. Sometimes they are just unsure of their ability to administer the medicines EMTs carry or are worried they will hurt someone.
Just getting through the certification process takes commitment, and then staying on the rotation and keeping up on meetings and drills and qualifications takes even more commitment and time. People move, get married, have children, change jobs or make other lifestyle changes that can make staying on the crew a challenge.
"Between my job and school, it wouldn't work for me if it wasn't for my daycare provider," admitted Heidi Appel. "She used to be an EMT and knows what it was like, so is always ready to take my kids at a moment's notice. It's her way of providing a service to the community."
That daycare provider, Paulette McNab, isn't on the crew, but is still giving back to the community, which is wonderful, Kolander said. Several of the crew members work for the Maple Lawn Nursing Home, which allows staff members who are EMTs to go on runs during the day.
"The community does their part to make sure we can do ours," Kolander stated, while the other members nodded. "It takes the whole community to make this work."
Recently, an annual fundraiser showed just how willing the community is to back the Fulda Ambulance crew. People who knew they couldn't attend the fundraiser dinner gave checks to members in advance, and on the night of the dinner, the crew served more than 250 meals to a hungry crowd that had come out on a cold night to support the vital service the members provide.
"And only one couple called 911 to have a meal delivered," crew members joked.