Vardaman: Show your support for EMTs |

Vardaman: Show your support for EMTs

Steve Vardaman
Valley Voices
Steve Vardaman

May 16-23 is the 47th annual National EMS week. Authorized by President Gerald R Ford in 1974, this week is meant to acknowledge and celebrate EMS professionals.

I’d like you to join me in celebrating the hard-working and dedicated paramedics and EMTs of Eagle County Paramedic Services, which is the first and only paramedic service in our community.

Founded in 1982, we are a Colorado special district formed to meet the needs of a population that has grown from 13,000 at inception to more than 55,000 full-time residents in 2020 (not to mention our seasonal residents and visitors). We now have five response stations and seven 24-hour paramedic crews from Gypsum to Vail to ensure that our community receives efficient and high-quality out-of-hospital care.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been perhaps one of the most challenging events in our history. I cannot express the admiration and pride I feel for how our staff has risen to the challenge with resilience, innovation, compassion and dedication to the community we serve.

Throughout the pandemic, we were not able to work from home and were regularly in contact with COVID-positive patients. A year ago, there wasn’t much information about the disease; we didn’t know whether we were going to get sick from coming to work, have permanent health issues, or even die. But our staff has a commitment to the citizens of this community and they persevered.

Their work was especially stressful, frustrating, frightening, emotionally and physically draining. I commend our field staff for their dedication.

I know everyone is tired of mask wearing, but most people are able to remove their masks in the safety of their own home. Our field providers work 48 hours straight and “live” at our response stations. For the past year, our staff was required to stay masked — even in their common living quarters — while at work for their safety. We are a close-knit work family, but we are not real “family” and needed to protect each other.

I also feel the need to remind our community that EMS isn’t simply defined by lights and sirens, car crashes, or ambulance rides. Even though many people still refer to us as “ambulance drivers,” that label couldn’t be farther from the truth. The full portrait of what EMS does and who we are is much more complex and diverse.

Paramedics are career professionals that go through up to a two-year rigorous educational program, a hospital internship, and a 500-hour field internship just to get initially certified. Education continues throughout your career with regular required training and classes. Following that, most of our field staff pursues additional specialty training.

In addition to 911 emergency response, we have a very busy interfacility transfer program that transports more than 500 patients a year from Vail Health to other specialty centers throughout the state. We even have 24 nationally certified flight paramedics.

Even though we don’t have a helicopter, we can provide the same level of care via ground transport — without the same weather concerns that affect helicopter transfers.

We have community paramedics on duty 24 hours a day who respond to behavioral health crises, provide home health care visits to help our citizens manage chronic health conditions and who have been interacting with and treating COVID positive patients in their homes for more than a year. We staff three community health navigators who are here to help residents navigate the complex system of mental health care and get people connected to available resources.

We have other specialized teams including law enforcement-certified, tactical paramedics (SWAT); wildland fire paramedics and EMTs, ski patrol paramedics and helicopter hoist-certified paramedics in support of Vail Mountain Search & Rescue. We collaborate with Vail Health, Colorado Mountain Medical, Valley View Hospital and other health care providers in the valley. We work alongside both Vail and Beaver Creek ski patrols. We also work with six fire departments, three police departments, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, Colorado State Patrol and more.

We hope you never need to meet us professionally, but if you do, please know that we are standing by 24 hours a day to provide skilled, professional and compassionate health care to Eagle County.

This week, I encourage you to reach out to your EMTs and paramedics and say thank you to this much deserving team. You can contact us on our website, on Facebook, Instagram or email to send them a quick note of thanks.

Steve Vardaman is the operations manager at Eagle County Paramedics.

Support Local Journalism