SLAYTON — Murray County Ambulance Director Jenni Kirchner received the EMT of the Year award from the Minnesota Emergency Medical Services Association last Saturday.

A native of Slayton, Kirchner earned her bachelor's degree in social work from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She and her husband, Jason, moved back to Slayton in 2008. At the urging of then-ambulance director, Kirchner became an EMT in April 2010.

"I enjoy helping," Kirchner said of her decision. "I like challenges."

In October 2011, Kirchner was promoted to ambulance director.

During her tenure, Kirchner has been an active participant in the Toward Zero Deaths Coalition, which works with state agencies to make roads safer. She helps identify places where signage is inadequate and calls for additional rumble strips to be placed in areas with high numbers of crashes.

"I work with people who can help make change," Kirchner said.

She has also worked to secure grants for life-saving equipment. For example, she received grants for the Murray County Medical Center to replace its ambulance, to purchase a new cardiac and vitals monitor, to add two chest compression devices and to buy two additional pediatric kits — a total of $157,000 in grant money.

In addition to working on behalf of the medical center, Kirchner has devoted her personal time to helping the public become safer.

She is a Stop the Bleed instructor, which is a program that teaches community members how to save a life. This effort "stems from the mass shootings we've had," Kirchner explained.

She also teaches CPR to businesses, daycare providers, teachers and paraprofessionals.

Kirchner sees her role as two separate jobs: her work as an EMT, and her managerial responsibilities.

"I truly consider myself a working manager," she explained. "I don't do anything I don't expect my EMTs to do. I love that they can work with me side by side.

"If it's my turn to mop the rig, it's my turn to mop the rig," she added.

When Kirchner was asked to attend the Minnesota Emergency Medical Services Association conference last Saturday, she was told she would be representing the medical center. But, as she listened to the emcee talk about her character and service, Kirchner realized that the award was actually for her.

"I was in shock," she said. She had no idea she'd even been nominated for the award, and her coworkers knew her well enough to lie to her so that she would actually attend the ceremony.

Kirchner is reluctant to take personal credit for her accomplishments as ambulance director.

"I couldn't be who I am without my volunteers," she said. "As much as I appreciate and am overwhelmed and moved beyond words to receive this award, I want to give credit to my crew. They're the lifeblood of these small-town services."

She also credits her husband, Jason, with making her work possible. Jason works full-time at Slayton Building Materials. They have two children, ages 9 and 6, and they also operate Stonegate Orchard together.

"When I'm on call, he's on call," Kirchner said of Jason. "When I have to drop everything, he has to drop everything." Keeping their busy lives organized is a team effort, she said.

Kirchner said the next big challenge she hopes to tackle is recruitment and retention.

"I would love to find a solution that would benefit not just Murray County, but the whole region of southwest Minnesota," Kirchner said. "What we have in place isn't working, so we have to think outside the box."

The Murray County Ambulance Service has a 21-person staff currently, including Kirchner. She hopes to increase that number and invites anyone interested to contact her at (507) 836-8780.