By Susan Whitney
The life of an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or paramedic is a continuous adventure into the unknown. The day could be filled with transport calls, or a day full of emergency 911 calls, but usually is a combination of both. They never know what will happen next.
There are approximately eight licensed EMTs and Paramedics and First Responders on duty at the Johnson County Rescue Squad (JCRS) at any given time. Upon arrival at the Rescue Squad building, the EMT checks the bulletin board for transport runs scheduled for that day. These are trips to pick up and deliver a patient to their doctor, hospital, or other medical facility in the area. For example, a patient may need to see their doctor for dialysis and has no other way to get there. The JCRS is called to arrange transport for the patient. Frequently the trip is to other areas such as Elizabethton, Johnson City, Nashville, or Boone or Winston-Salem, NC. The EMTs and paramedics monitor the patient until they are transferred to medical care providers at their destination. Transports are arranged by contacting the Johnson County Rescue Squad at 727-6531 where doctor's orders, insurance information and other qualifying data is gathered and verified. Ambulances are then inspected to make certain all supplies and medicines have been restocked and all equipment on board is in perfect operating condition.
“Some days the bulletin board is full of transport runs and other days there are none. You just never know,” said Willie DeBord, Assistant Director of the Johnson County Rescue Squad EMS. DeBord, who is also the Johnson County Coroner, has been with the local rescue squad since 1977. At that time there were a number of volunteers but only two full-time paid employees for the entire county. Today there are approximately 30 full and part-time employees, nearly a third of which are women. “There are four levels of emergency personnel: First Responders, EMT, EMT-IV, and Paramedics. The EMT-IV designation means they can administer certain fluids and medicine to a patient intravenously,” DeBord explained.
Any 911 emergency calls take priority over routine transports. Everything comes to a halt as the EMTs and paramedics rush to their assigned vehicles confident that the ambulance is fully equipped to meet any situation. They are well-trained and licensed men and women ready, willing and able to meet any crisis. The EMTs and paramedics could be sitting in the lounge area enjoying their first cup of coffee, watching the news, and joking with fellow employees when a 911 call comes in. It might be that someone has chest pains or has passed out. A child could have broken a leg or be bleeding from a head injury. It may be a suspected drug overdose where someone is unconscious or even a car wreck where there are life-threatening injuries. It might be an incident on Watauga Lake where JCRS's emergency watercrafts are called into service.
DeBord explained that at the same time that JCRS receives the 911 call, First Responders in the appropriate district also receive the call. Often they are closer to the location of the emergency and arrive first on the scene. They are able to stabilize the patient for transport in the ambulance when it arrives usually only minutes later. The districts include Dry Hill, Butler, Neva, Shady Valley, Laurel Bloomery, Cold Springs, Forge Creek, and Trade. “Our very qualified First Responders in the various districts are a vital part of emergency medical services provided here in Johnson County,” DeBord said.
An EMT can expect to work a minimum of eight hours per shift, but frequently will be required to stay longer depending on emergency calls and long-distance transports. Night and weekend shifts are for 12 hours, 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. The JCRS maintains eight ambulances and one heavy-duty vehicle used in extremely serious circumstances. The driver of all emergency vehicles must have a Class F driver's license.
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By Susan Whitney