Eagle County Paramedic Services launches wildfire team to provide medical support on the front lines
The Eagle County Paramedic Services wildland fire team, made up of six paramedics who are specially trained to respond to medical or traumatic events in the wildland environment, will be available when fires threaten the mountain region.
The team consists of Mike Gasell, Conor Moran, Chris Rauzi, Greg Sawyer, Joel Simonson and Aaron Zinser. Hank Bevington is serving as wildland fire supervisor. These paramedics received wildland training and certifications to serve on the line or from an ambulance that is equipped with specific tools and personal protective equipment to deploy for weeks at a time. Members of the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District and Eagle River Fire Protection District provided integral training for the ECPS wildland fire team with administrative guidance from Ryan McCully, battalion chief of the Colorado River Region of Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control.
“There’s a need for paramedics on the fire line due to the remoteness of these fires. Otherwise, access to immediate medical care can be far away,” said Joel Simonson, who has served on wildland fire teams previously and spearheaded the training at ECPS. “Having a wildland fire team adds to our all-hazards approach to paramedicine and we can assist other departments in our response district. It’s good for our community, our county and for the wildland crews who are on the line.”
Wildland EMS paramedics work in tandem with firefighters and hotshot crews to help ensure the success of the overall operation by doing everything possible to ensure firefighters and support staff are at their best and as healthy as possible.
It also involves working in tough conditions. These line medics work 16 hours a day for 14 days straight when they’re at a fire. They’re prepared to camp for the entire shift and also carry provisions to be self-sustaining for three days. In addition to working with hand tools, learning how to cut a fire line, deploy fire shelters and more, these paramedics have successfully passed a pack test: walking three miles in 45 minutes or less carrying a 45-pound pack. All of this training and education leads to the paramedic or EMT being “red carded” — receiving the Interagency Incident Qualification Card.
“Adding additional capabilities from Eagle County Paramedic Services is a huge help to the wildfire community,” said McCulley. “As a firefighter myself, I really appreciate having those guys out there as line medics and as an ambulance that’s available … because the job is a dangerous job. It always made me feel better having those guys available — they’re professional paramedics and that’s who you want taking care of you if you get hurt. They’re much appreciated by all the guys on the ground.”
Because the wildland fire EMS group will be deploying from Eagle County, it means that response time to wildfire incidents in the mountain region can be greatly reduced. As of Aug. 3, ECPS can be deployed to locations across the state and perhaps even out of state if the need arises, providing medical care to those fighting the fires.
“We’re proud that we’re now able to offer wildland fire EMS services,” said Christopher Montera, the CEO of Eagle County Paramedic Services. “It’s not only an amazing experience for our paramedics, but it expands our utility and what we offer as a service to our community.”
The ECPS wildland fire team is being utilized even more quickly than planned: Joel Simonson was deployed to the Pine Gulch fire in De Beque on Tuesday, Aug. 4.