Local volunteers make a difference
During the month of May, area Emergency Medical Services (EMS) are recognized for their service to their communities.
The Iola Ambulance Service first got its start sometime in the early 1970s, according to Bill Westphal.
“The EMT concept was new to everyone,” he said. “But several firefighters volunteered to take the course which consisted of one evening a week for about 10 months, followed by a very difficult test.”
Gary Ruehmling, Jack Halverson, Bob Grossbier, Eugene Voie and Jim Hotvedt were among the first to serve the community.
Now 40-plus years later, the service still remains.
Currently there are approximately 22 EMTs with the Iola Ambulance Service.
“We are an important part of any every community,” said Carrie Snyder, business manager for the Iola & Rural Fire Department. “We do it because we want to be here.”
Snyder pointed out that her job as an EMT is not always easy.
“Being in a small town, we have emotional connections to the people we are treating,” she said. “When emotions occur on calls, we still have to do our job. It’s that dedication to what we do that gets the job done.”
Jim Aanstad, assistant chief of ambulance, added that area First Responders are also a huge asset.
“We work with Northwest and Ogdensburg-St, Lawrence,” said Aanstad. “They are usually first on the scene and let us know what is going on.”
“They can give us a lot of important information before we get there,” added Snyder. “We can start making a plan before we even arrive.”
According to Aanstad, countless hours go into the training of an EMT.
“There is a class you have to take,” he said. “Not to mention refresher courses every two years and monthly meetings.”
“You learn things like anatomy, how to deal with trauma and medical conditions, basic skills and more,” added Snyder. She noted that the department is fortunate to have IV technicians as well.
“With us being 15 minutes or more away from a hospital, this is critical to treatments,” she said.
Being a part of a rural department is unique.
“A lot of communities our size only offer one service,” said Snyder. “Here in Iola we have both fire and ambulance and we work very closely with each other.”
She pointed out such things as the fire department will help with lift assistance and how the ambulance goes on fire calls to make sure the firemen stay healthy during a fire.
With a strictly volunteer department there has been a decline in the number of people that join.
“We have seen the numbers go down over the years,” said Aanstad. “Younger people get done with high school and they are moving away. It’s hard to keep them here and wanting to do this.”
“We are always looking for more people to join,” added Snyder. “We need good people that want to make a difference.”
According to Aanstad, rural departments as a whole are seeing changes.
“The Iola & Rural Fire Department gets funding from seven municipalities; Town of Iola, Village of Iola, Town Harrison, Town of Helvetia, Town of Scandinavia, Village of Scandinavia and Town of St Lawrence,” said Aanstad. “Other than that, funding is limited.”
“Our legislature is looking into ways to help rural services,” added Snyder. “State wide there is not a lot of funding, which is always an issue.”
There is no doubt our local department is dedicated to what they do.
“The department is like family,” said Braden Paulson, who is currently training to be an EMT. “This is a great way to give back to the community.”
Snyder stated they are here to help support the community.
“Not only do we help the patient,” said Snyder. “We are also here to support family and friends during medical emergencies.”
According to Westphal, since the Iola Ambulance Service started, over 100 men and women have done their part to bring quality medical care to area residents.
“The service has changed with the times,” he said. “But, the one thing that has not changed is the dedication that the EMTs have brought to the service.”
Aanstad seems to sum it all it.
“We care, because we care,” he said. “Hearing thank yous is nice, but knowing you made a difference is everything.”