Guest View: What it takes to answer the call


May 19, 2023

Who is the person that shows up when you call an ambulance?

Five of the most important qualities of a paramedic, emergency medical technician (EMT) or emergency medical responder (EMR) are:

• The ability to remain calm in a stressful situation.

• Flexibility.

• Great interpersonal skills.

• A team player.

• Positivity.

An ambulance is summoned when something has gone wrong. It could be a person with chest pain, stroke symptoms, an accident that left someone severely injured, a drug overdose, abuse, intoxication, mental health crisis, difficulties with cancer, pregnancy complications or a myriad of other health emergencies. More times than not, it is something sad, tragic, violent, grief-filled or visually disturbing that most people in our community don’t even hear about.

Imagine your job is to wait and prepare for any of these situations to occur … Or alternatively, as a paid on-call responder, you go about your typical day until you are called to respond to a medical emergency.

It takes a rare, strong and capable individual to respond to a call for help — utilizing their training, physical and mental strength, communication skills and great team dynamics — while giving their best effort to impact the outcome of each emergency. It takes an even stronger person to come back and do it again, some for 25 or more years.

There is a lighter side to this essential service to our community.

A healthy baby is delivered on the side of the road or on a living room sofa, or you arrive at a car crash that looks ominous but leaves no one injured. You connect with someone having a mental health crisis and start their journey towards wellness, administer life-saving medication to a person not breathing during an overdose, or simply perform to the highest level and give someone every possible chance who is fighting for their life.

The men and women who respond when an ambulance is called are a special group; you may call for their help several times in a year, or not once in your lifetime. Some are tied to the community and feel a calling to serve their hometown; others are passionate about a career in which they can help people when they need it the most.

Emergency medical response takes a toll on those who choose this line of work: the average career span is only five years. Each person can only absorb so much death, grief, tragedy and violence until they reach the end of their capacity to persist. Incidents that flash through the news remain with our EMS responders for their lifetime — the sights, sounds and smells sometimes return as if they happened yesterday.

The Cloquet Area Fire District responded to 2,813 emergency medical incidents in 2022. An EMS responder who spends their career in our system will likely respond to 15,000 or more medical emergencies. That can be a heavy burden to carry.

Emergency Medical Services week is May 21-27 this year. If you know a Paramedic, EMT or EMR, thank them for the work they do. It means a lot to be supported by friends, family and community. If you know someone who may be a good fit in a challenging and ever-changing work environment, please tell them to join a local ambulance or fire department, or send them to us to find out more about the job.

I have the utmost respect and appreciation for all emergency medical responders. Thank you for the work you’ve done, and the work that you know will be coming to you all too soon.

Editor’s note: Jesse Buhs is fire chief for the Cloquet Area Fire District, where he started as a firefighter in 1998, worked his way up to captain in 2009, then battalion chief in 2013. Contact him at 218-499-4258 or by emailing [email protected].


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