Paramedic service: Each day is unique | VailDaily.com

Paramedic service: Each day is unique

Cameron Cusick
Special to the Daily

Editor's note: The following was submitted by Cameron Cusick of Eagle County Paramedic Services.

EDWARDS — As a paramedic service, nothing ever is as simple as "business as usual." This is the case in the Colorado high country. Eagle County Paramedic Services provides ambulance service to 1,692 square miles, including most of Eagle County and the eastern portion of Garfield County. With so much area to cover and nearly 5,000 requests for ambulance service annually, each day is unique. This past year, Eagle County Paramedic Services has continued to grow and expand its advanced life support service by adding a search and rescue paramedic program.

Vail Mountain Rescue Group is the local, all-volunteer team responsible for all search and rescue operations in the unincorporated areas of Eagle County and works under the jurisdiction of the Eagle County Sheriff's Office. However, while Vail Mountain Rescue Group specializes in alpine rescue, it is only able to provide a limited level of medical care. Eagle County Paramedic Services joined with Vail Mountain Rescue Group to provide advanced life support to rescues.

Separate from Vail Mountain Rescue Group and local fire departments, Eagle County Paramedic Services' search and rescue program is made up of full-time, professional paramedics who specialize in wilderness medicine. Eagle County Paramedic Services and Vail Mountain Rescue Group have a long history of working closely with each other, and last year they focused on how to bring a higher level of medical care to patients they respond to on a daily basis.

Modified from similar programs in Summit and Grand counties, Eagle County Paramedic Services started the search and rescue paramedic program in 2015 as a way to serve the unique needs of our mountain community. The search and rescue program received its first call for service that June 30, 2015, the day it was created. Since then, search and rescue medics have been deployed on 18 calls. At 62 percent, the majority of the team's calls are for patients with orthopedic trauma. So far, group members have responded to everything from snowmobile, ATV, and paragliding accidents, to avalanches and other situations.

"I'm excited by the elevated level of care we bring to these rescues," said Marc Burdick, the Eagle County Paramedic Services paramedic behind the new program.

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Search and rescue paramedics are able to do an advanced patient assessment, which improves decisions on how to best move a patient. They can also give pain medications, greatly improving a patient's comfort level during what typically is a long trip out of the backcountry, often with severe injuries. Paramedic Steve Zuckerman recalls responding to a call in which a man who lost his footing while hiking broke both hips. "He was in severe pain and needed pain relief before being carried out," Zuckerman said.

Currently, nine of 44 full-time paramedics take part in the search and rescue program. All have experience in wilderness and backcountry medicine. This experience, combined with their paramedic training, allows them to provide faster advanced life support care.

This was highlighted in a case involving a man who was unresponsive after crashing his ATV above Camp Hale. Because of the team's extensive knowledge of the county, paramedics were able to pinpoint the location of the patient based on description of landmarks in the area. The patient began receiving treatment for severe neck pain and left-sided weakness as soon as the team arrived. He was successfully extricated to a Flight For Life helicopter that flew him to St. Anthony's Hospital. Once there, he was treated for a neck fracture. This week, the patient took his first step again during rehab.

The Colorado high country is a fun place to enjoy and explore, but when things go wrong, Eagle County Paramedic Services is proud that it can make a real difference in the level of medical care patients are able to receive onsite and in transit, no matter how remote the location.

Eagle County Paramedic Services is a full-service Emergency Medical Services agency that provides emergency response, inter-facility patient transportation including paramedic level critical care, community paramedic, community events, medical support of special events and specialized response teams. During the ski season, Eagle County Paramedic Services has five paramedic-staffed ambulances on duty countywide, with one to two extra day-shift ambulances available to help with the increased call volume the ski season brings. There is also an on-call crew for transporting critically ill and injured patients to Denver area hospitals. Ambulances also move patients with mental health issues to available beds throughout Colorado.