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Meet Carlton's new ambulance manager

Some time ago, during her workaday life as a wife, mother and corporate insurance manager, Santana Haggy heard a friend comment about joining a local volunteer fire department.

"I laughed it off," Haggy said.

But months later she found herself faced with sleepless nights, imagining herself doing it.

"All of a sudden, it was like, 'What does that look like? How do you run a career and volunteer at the same time, and train and all that stuff?'" Haggy said.

Soon, Haggy was volunteering for the Esko Volunteer Fire Department and later joined the city of Carlton's ambulance service after a semester of emergency medical technician training in early 2023.

"The more I went on medical calls, the more I wanted to do it," Haggy said. "Once I got my EMT license, it was something I wanted to do full time."

As of Feb. 29, she got her wish. Three weeks into the job, Haggy, 38, is the new ambulance manager for Carlton Fire and Ambulance.

She's the first full-time employee in the service, which until now had been operated by paid, on-call staffers. Haggy will make $30 per hour, according to data provided at city hall.

Soon, she'll be joined by another full-time emergency medical technician, and the two of them will operate the ambulance Mondays through Fridays - the hardest days to fill with on-call staffers. Additionally, Haggy is responsible for recruiting EMTs, scheduling the 24-hour-a-day service and fundraising for a service that feels the budget crunch just like every other rural ambulance service in the state.

"I looked at the job description - working as an EMT and being able to manage an amazing team of EMTs and run the day-to-day operations," said Haggy, who for 16 years managed a team at UnitedHealthcare responsible for new clients.

"It felt too perfect," she added of the ambulance manager position. "I threw my name in the hat and was blessed enough to be chosen."

Haggy was among three finalists for the job, and one of two internal candidates. Fire Chief Derek Wolf noted her passion and knowledge of the work, along with her management experience.

"It's a sigh of relief knowing she's going to be there handling the day-to-day stuff," he said. "We're all pretty excited about it."

Wolf and other city officials spent two years reorganizing the ambulance service, most of it spent convincing surrounding townships in the service area to raise their financial commitments in order to support two full-time staffers.

The full-time positions figure to stabilize a service that faces historically high call volumes, including 790 medical calls in 2022. Having Haggy in place will allow the service to do things it hasn't been able to do with a cast of on-call workers - a mix of seasoned volunteers and students studying to join the medical field.

Haggy will organize community outreach and fundraise through grants and other ways to help make the service more financially self-sufficient.

During her previous job, Haggy mostly worked from home. But her 13-year-old is more self-reliant now, and her husband is supportive of the new job that finds her arriving to start her shifts at 7:30 a.m.

She continues to be awed by the ambulance work. When it comes to tense situations, she describes herself going into "business mode," in which she's clear-headed and on task while an injured or ailing person is experiencing one of the toughest times of their life.

"I've been on a couple of cardiac arrest calls where we actually got them back," she said. "To be able to be there for that, and to see that, is pretty cool."

And while she's not able to heal broken limbs, she appreciates the opportunity to be alongside somebody who is hurting, making them feel less anxious by providing comfort and support.

"It is way different than office life," Haggy said. "Here, you get to do it out in the world. It's nice to be able to see people and help them."

Haggy was raised nearby in rural Superior, Wisconsin. She and her family reside in Thomson Township, part of which is served by Carlton ambulance. It raises the stakes, she said, to live among the people she helps.

"It's the greatest thing to be here in Carlton. This is my county. I live here. These are my neighbors," she said. "To be able to serve our service area or provide mutual aid to another department in the county is really exciting, because they're all our neighbors."

She also appreciates what the city of Carlton is doing by fortifying its ambulance service with its first two full-time employees. The job opening for a second full-time EMT to work alongside Haggy was posted this week.

"It's exciting to come into that," Haggy said. "It's exciting to know that the organization as a whole and the city backs the ambulance service and there's a lot of support. Our community is supporting us as we move forward and it's really great."