lending a hand | Emergency Medical services

Emergency medical volunteers save lives

EMTs fill a vital need for their neighbors in rural communities


Picture this. It’s early May; the weather is nice, and you are having a cookout at your place in the country. Extended family is invited. There is a good-sized crowd playing bean bags and a volleyball net set up. Suddenly, Grandma collapses. Do you know what to do? A family member has called 911 and said they have dispatched an ambulance, but it will be a while before they get there. The dispatcher is talking the caller through some medical steps to help your grandma, but she is still unresponsive.

Meanwhile, the dispatcher has paged the closest Emergency Medical Service (EMS). It is a volunteer service in a town five miles away. Two volunteers hear the page and respond to the station. Once both volunteers are at the station, the ambulance can now respond and is heading toward you with lights and sirens. Help should be there shortly. Once the volunteer team has arrived, an emergency medical technician (EMT-Basic), paramedic or even a nurse will be performing the necessary medical treatments or interventions needed and then transport the patient to the closest medical facility.

Big towns like Sioux Falls and even Brookings have paramedic teams already on an ambulance, staged in certain areas of the city ready to respond when the need arises. In rural America, there is not the tax base to have a paramedic team on an ambulance just waiting for a call. Rural areas usually rely on volunteer ambulance services and local volunteer EMTs, paramedics and nurses to answer the call.

Kingsbury County has four EMS stations providing care. These services are in Iroquois, Arlington, Lake Preston and De Smet. All the services provide Basic Life Support (BLS) care and Arlington, De Smet and Lake Preston can provide Advance Life Support (ALS), when the ambulance has a paramedic or nurse as a team member.

Emergency medical services are regulated by the South Dakota Department of Health. They set the standards for ambulances including what equipment and supplies are needed and what type of training personnel need to maintain a level of care. They also regulate the training and state certifications one would need to become or maintain an EMT or paramedic status.

Local EMS services utilize volunteer drivers who must pass an Emergency Vehicle Operator Certification class before they can drive an ambulance. Some services locally use volunteer firefighters to drive when the need arises. Other services have so many volunteer drivers, they do not need any more. Check with your local services to see if they need volunteer drivers. Chances are they do not need drivers, BUT every service needs EMTs or higher, certified personnel.

What it takes to be an EMT

Emergency Medical Technician is the entry level into the field of emergency services. Classes can cost from $500 up to $1,800, with most averaging about $1,000. Most services in this county will require you pay for the classes on your own, and upon attaining the EMT certification, will then reimburse you right away, or some reimburse a portion at certification and the rest a year later. Each service is different, so talk with a local EMS volunteer, and they will tell you how you will be reimbursed. Volunteer EMTs are the greatest need that all services are looking for.

Classes are available online, or another EMS agency may have a class in a nearby town, while still others may be associated with an institute of higher education. Some classes may utilize a combination of online and classroom time. Classes will usually provide the textbook needed, offer skill evaluations, and give practice tests to prepare you for the National Registry test you must pass in order to become an EMT. Medical terminology can make the class hard for some individuals. Numerous colleges and organizations offer free online classes for medical terminology. Taking this class before the EMT class can be beneficial. There are many books available on medical terminology that will help you become familiar with the vocabulary and terms used.

Total class time can be between 160 to 200 hours. The class will be divided into classroom lectures and teaching skills, and toward the end, you will be responsible for doing your clinicals. These are shifts where you will work at a hospital or with an ambulance crew to provide you with practical skills and experience of being an EMT. The National Registry test is not an easy test. A lot of students have difficulty with it. Some difficulties have to do with the medical terminology used, and other difficulties are the wording of their questions or answers. Tests are computerized and do not want you to pick the correct answer; they want you to pick the most correct answer. Most instructors will have you complete many practice tests before you take the actual test.

Tips for success

In the United States, most EMT classes have less than a 50% certification rate. That means for every 50 students enrolled in the class, less than 25 will finish the class and pass the National Registry test and become certified. If you are thinking of becoming a volunteer EMT, do not be discouraged by these numbers. Here are some tips to help you successfully become certified.

First, talk with a volunteer EMT or paramedic to find out what the job is like. Ask what they find rewarding with the job and about the worst calls they have made. Chances are you will be doing the same, and you need to know the good and bad. Talking with another volunteer may shed some light on other aspects of being an EMT you never thought of.

Second, borrow or buy an old used EMT textbook. Go through it. Look at the pictures. Some of the pictures are injuries you may face. Look at the skills they cover. Loading a patient onto a cot, bandaging and stopping arterial bleeding are just a few of the many skills you will acquire while attending the class.

Last, go over the chapters in the textbook and look at the context. Look at the terms you will learn for each chapter. If the terminology seems like it might be a problem for you, take a medical terminology class or invoke the help from another volunteer EMT. When going through the book, can you see yourself doing those skills and taking care of those injuries and patients? If you can picture yourself doing the skills and taking care of the patients, you are halfway toward successfully completing the class.

On the job

An EMT takes care of two types of patients, a medical patient and an injured patient. A medical patient is one who is sick, having a heart attack, running a fever or having difficulty breathing. Usually, these patients are too sick to take themselves to the hospital or may need some urgent medical interventions such as a breathing treatment, oxygen, the use of an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) or other medical care. An injured patient is one who is involved with an accident. EMS calls them a trauma patient. These patients may have fallen, been kicked off a horse, been involved in a motor vehicle collision or been involved in some type of incident causing injury to themselves. Some can be severe and life-threatening, and others may be minor.

As an EMT your job is to stabilize the patient as best you can, using the skills, interventions and equipment available on your ambulance. If a medical patient is running a fever, an EMT will monitor the patient’s vital signs, assess medical history and events leading up to this event, collect medications and then transport the patient if needed. This is just an example, and every medical call is different and may require different interventions. Medical calls are what most EMS agencies respond to. While the calls are not that exciting, it is rewarding knowing you provided care to a neighbor or friend in need.

Taking care of a traumatic or injured patient are the calls that get your heart beating fast. These calls can involve vehicle collisions, and the outcomes vary widely. You may have occupants of the cars involved who are perfectly fine while others that may have already deceased. Some may appear fine, but while you are transporting, their status may decline. Taking care of these patients is where your class will come in handy. The EMT class will teach you how to assess your patient, what interventions to perform and what skills will be needed. You will know when to call for a higher level of care or when an urgent transport is needed, like lights and sirens when transporting a patient to the hospital.

EMS is about teamwork. You will utilize teamwork on the ambulance with the crews on scene like your fire department and law enforcement and crews in the emergency room. As a new EMT, you will work alongside experienced personnel who will help you build your confidence in taking care of patients on your own. Communicate with your EMS partners and tell them when you need help. They really want you to succeed.

Help save a life

The following is a list of the local EMS departments in Kingsbury County and their needs. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer EMT, they will help you accomplish that goal. If there are businesses or citizens that want to help, perhaps donating a scholarship to a local service to cover the costs of someone’s tuition and book costs to become an EMT would be appreciated. EMTs are desperately needed in our rural areas. If there are no local ambulance services to care for the sick and injured, think how long it would take for an ambulance to respond from Brookings or Huron. Be that one to help when an emergency occurs.

Lake Preston EMS currently needs EMTs, paramedics and nurses. If you are interested in helping this agency, contact a member or check with the City Hall, and they will get you in contact with someone on the service. They are seeking donations for equipment on the ambulance, training and continuing education costs, appliances for their new ambulance station such as a television, refrigerator, stove, washer and dryer.

De Smet EMS is seeking EMTs or nurses. If you are interested in helping this agency, contact a member and they will get you in contact with someone on the service. They are also accepting donation for new radios or even cash donations.

Iroquois EMS is searching for EMT volunteers and driver volunteers. If you are interested in helping this agency, contact a member or check with the City Hall, and they will get you in contact with someone on the service. They need donations for training, education and a new heart monitor/AED.

Arlington EMS needs EMTs, paramedics and nurses. Contact an active member or meet at City Hall on the third Thursday at 6 p.m. Watch for an upcoming fundraiser. They will be hosting a feed but will be glad to accept donations for new radios and a new power cot.

There are many pros and cons to being an EMT. Costs may be one of the biggest hinderances. If you do need financial help, do not be afraid to ask. Being a volunteer EMT and providing competent medical care to your neighbors and friends can be extremely rewarding. Next time a family member collapses, you will not be waiting for an EMS team to respond, you will be the one handling the emergency.


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