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The first ones to get there

Veronica Whitney

“You have to go to the bathroom when you need to,” , says Jones, a paramedic supervisor with the Eagle County Ambulance District station in Vail, “when the call comes in, you can’t go.”

When he drives to an emergency, his first concern is not causing another accident, Jones says activating the lights and sirens of the truck.

“Our policy says we can only drive 15 mph over the speed limit,” he says.



When he gets to Saint Clare of Assisi School, paramedics from the Edwards’ station have already taken care of 12-year-old Andy Daulton, who has a red eye and a bump on his forehead. Andy was playing soccer when a gust of wind blew the soccer net down and the pole hit his head.

“Sometimes you get there and it’s nothing,” Jones says. “But driving all the way there you’ve been thinking about possible head or neck injuries.”



Sometimes, it takes more than a car and several hours to get to a call, says Kim Nelson, a paramedic of Edwards also stationed in Vail.

“We have ridden horses, ATVs (all terrain vehicles) or snowmobiles to get to a call,” says Nelson, 34, who also puts together a monthly newsletter for the ambulance district. “We do everything we need to treat immediate life threats and stabilize patients.”

“We don’t have the amount of calls Denver stations have but we also don’t have their resources,” he says.



Ambulances are ready to deal with accidents and emergencies 24 hours a day. There are three stations in Vail, Edwards and Eagle.

“Having stations up- and down-valley helps make our response quicker,” Jones says.

The busiest times of the year, when all trucks are out, are the Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve and several days in the ski season, says Scott Harmsen, a paramedic who lives in Silverthorn.

“One day this summer, however, we had five calls in half an hour,” Harmsen says.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on The World Trade Center, they agree, were a reminder of the inherent risks of their job.

“There wasn’t a division of emergency services in New York that wasn’t untouched by Sept. 11,” Jones says citing the 18 paramedics and emergency medical technicians who died in the rescue efforts.

“Any given day our job can be dangerous,” Nelson says. “Our biggest worry here is I-70. In the winter, we stand on the on the side of the road with cars speeding by us.”

When they respond to a risky call – like domestic disturbance -, Nelson says they call police for backup.

“You can’t dwell on the sad part of this job,” she says, “because you help a lot of people, too.”

The Eagle County Ambulance District runs an average of eight calls a day and 3,000 calls a year, Jones says. Paramedics with the Eagle County Ambulance District work an average of 10 days a month. Because the shifts are 24 hours, the stations have bedrooms, a full kitchen and a living room with cozy couches and a TV.

“If we don’t have a call at night, we can sleep – with the radios on,” Harmsen says.

If they get a call after 10 p.m., paramedics have to get ready to go in three minutes.

“That’s plenty of time to get dressed and get my hair looking decent,” Nelson says.

“You get used to get up, we’re light sleepers,” Jones says. “We don’t have the luxury of a snooze button.”

Although friends and family can visit the station, they can’t stay overnight.

“It’s 10 days a month you’re not home with your family,”says Nelson, who has a husband and two dogs. “But that makes your time at home more special. When I became a paramedic, they told me 90 percent get divorced.”

Paramedics also wash their uniforms at work as an infection control procedure so we don’t carry home any bio-hazard,” Nelson says.

Paramedics at the Vail station work under the supervision of Diana Hearne, an emergency room doctor with Vail Valley Medical Center.

“We can do almost everything to save somebody’s life,” Nelson says. “If it falls within our protocol, we can make a decision.”

Those procedures include: starting IVs, administering certain medications, cardiac and respiratory emergencies and stabilizing fractures, among other things.

“We can’t do C-sections,” Harmsen says smiling. “I love this job because it allows me to think by myself.”

Also, when they are on duty, paramedics shop and cook.

“Sometimes we go to Wendy’s all together,” Jones says. “We have birthday parties and the last two years we celebrated Thanksgiving with the fire department.”

Sharing that time together, Harmsen says, helps them build friendships

“There’s a lot of dynamics in this job,” he says. “A lot of people we hire have good personalities and have similar interests. When you work here, it’s important to get along well.”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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