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A giant "thank you" to all emergency responders

EMS Appreciation Week is this week (May 21-27), so whom are we celebrating?

Paramedics, emergency medical technicians (EMT) or emergency medical responders (EMR) are present in every community across our nation.

There are several types of systems to manage emergency medical incidents in the U.S., ready to respond 24/7. Each has a system of sending responders to the scene of a medical emergency, and each system is determined by factors such as how many incidents, population density and service area size.

In rural areas they are typically paid on-call staff (traditionally known as volunteers) based out of local fire departments or rescue squads. In suburban or urban areas, there are paid staff who work in fire-department-based municipal operations, hospital-based and/or private or

nonprofit services. You may have a neighbor who is mowing their lawn one minute and responding to an emergency scene the next, or one who is at work for 24 hours at a time while working in your community’s ambulance service.

In rural parts of our state, paid on-call responders are alerted to an emergency via radio, pager or phone app, and they then respond from wherever they are at the time. These folks are generally not interested in making EMS a career; instead, they are called to serve their community by filling a critical role in emergency response.

More populous areas are served by paid full-time or part-time staff scheduled to work shifts. These responders are compassionate about helping people and serving their community during times of their greatest need.

People typically don’t consider what they’d do if nobody responded to a medical emergency, but as fewer people are interested in EMS, the possibility continues to increase.

All service types are seeing fewer applicants, and some are changing staffing models with the most highly trained and capable paramedics becoming scarce. If you know someone who may be a good fit for a challenging and very important role in our community, please encourage them to contact their local fire department or EMS service to apply for a position.

The decision to become an EMS responder is not to be taken lightly, and many who try it do not continue for more than five years. Work conditions can range from extreme weather, dangerous environments, violent scenes, and very disturbing sights, sounds and smells … sometimes combinations of every one of these! Like law enforcement and firefighters, EMS workers are protectors and have a strong desire to help people in need. Sometimes gratifying, many times heart-wrenching and sometimes life-changing, working in EMS is a choice that not many people will truly understand.

Paramedics begin as EMTs and typically attend a two-year or associate degree program, while EMTs are trained for about 200 hours. Each certification level requires attending continuing education classes regularly and recertification every other year. Every level is trained in lifesaving skills — airway management, cardiac rhythm interpretation, medication administration and much more — and each builds upon the preceding level. As technology advances in health care, paramedics, EMTs and EMRs must adapt and continually learn to be as effective as possible when responding to the next life-threatening emergency.

Please join me in thanking all emergency medical services staff in our community — we appreciate the difficult work they do for us all!

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].