Whatever You Do, Don’t Call Them “Ambulance Drivers”
That’s the worst thing you can say to an emergency medical technician or a paramedic, said Troy Walker, Director of Emergency Medical Services in Muhlenberg County. Muhlenberg EMS is one of the newer arms of Owensboro Health, becoming part of the health system with the lease acquisition of Muhlenberg Community Hospital in 2015.
“We've got a really good service here, with advanced technology and experienced folks. There's not many services where you can find the experience and services that you can find here,” Walker said.
It’s not an exaggeration. The most experienced staff members at Muhlenberg EMS have more than three decades each. Paramedic Dan Yonts has been with the service as long as it has existed, since the 1970s. In total, the amount of accumulated experience for all the staff is over 500 years, spread out among 18 full-time and 13 part-time employees.
Walker said they’ve got the talent. Now they have the tools, too.
“We were a small, rural hospital. We couldn't afford some of the things to take us to the next level,” Walker said. “Owensboro Health has taken us to the next level. That's what we're gaining from this partnership.”
It’s not easy to be an EMT or a paramedic. EMTs must complete 150 hours of training and pass a national exam before they can be licensed. Then, they must complete about 40 hours of continuing medical education every two years. For paramedics, it’s even more demanding, with anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 hours of education and 60 hours of continuing medical education every two years (there are also associate’s degree programs to become a paramedic). By comparison, Kentucky requires physicians to complete 60 hours of continuing medical education every three years.
That doesn’t take into account the strain of the job.
“This is not a job. It's a way of life. It affects your families as much as it affects you. We're always here. We can't take off every holiday, because someone has to be here,” said Mike Pentecost, a paramedic with 32 years total experience, 24 of which were at Muhlenberg EMS. “We're literally bringing the emergency room right to them.”
That includes the ever-present worry that comes along with being a first responder in a small community.
“The one thing is that you have to be ready to pick up a family member. You have to get to that situation of knowing, that level of professionalism,” said EMT John Hocker, who has been an EMT for 31 years and with Muhlenberg EMS for 29. “That's the worst thing, being on a scene that involves your own family. You have to be a responder and get to work.”
Even after the scene is clear and everything is back to normal, the reminders are everywhere.
“I can't go into a restaurant or grocery store without seeing someone whom I have either picked up or that is related to someone I've picked up,” said Paramedic Tim Carver, a 32-year paramedic with 30 years at Muhlenberg EMS. “I don't think people always understand how it affects us. We take it home with us. We cry just like they do. I know I have. You see a lot of stuff in 32 years.”
But they stick with it because they know it makes a difference.
“I don't think there's anyone here who look at this like a job. You have to have it in here,” Hocker said, holding his hand to his heart. “No run is the same. You have to have it in your heart”
The greatest rewards are the ones that can only be felt.
“When you have a good outcome from a patient, where you know if you hadn't been there they wouldn't be here today, that's the biggest reward,” Carver said.
And they do it the only way they can: Together.
“We're like an oiled machine. If we have a part missing, the machine won't work. You have to be ready to go and know what to do,” Hocker said. “Everyone has to have each other's back. We're with each other constantly. They become your family.”
Fast facts about Muhlenberg EMS:
- 31 employees, including 18 full-time and 13 part-time
- 18 qualified as paramedics, 13 qualified as EMTs
- Nearly 5,000 runs made by the service in 2015, with a trend of 100-300 run increase over the last several years
- Primarily focused on emergency response runs; Can provide non-emergency transport when available
- Seven members of the service are instructors in Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and six are instructors in Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS)