Faces of EMS: Geyser volunteers ‘do it for community’

Special to the News-Argus

Two members of the Geyser EMS crew, Pat Antonich and Kris Hill, invite others to join them for training on their neat toys, the LUCAS 2 and the LIFEPAK 15. 

Photo by Vicky McCray


Sunday marked the beginning of National EMS Week, seven days for turning our thoughts to those people in the county who selflessly give of their time to help save lives by responding to medical emergencies. This year marks the 43rd annual EMS Week, which was authorized by President Gerald Ford in 1974. “EMS STRONG: Always in Service” is the 2017 theme.

An EMS volunteer has been quoted, “EMS are the calm with the storm, the human connection in an emergency.”

The Judith Basin County EMS is made up of three crews (Geyser, Hobson and Stanford) of highly trained, caring and compassionate people who volunteer their time for the rest of us. They are a vital component of the county and work hard to give their patients the best care possible. They are people from all walks of life – teachers, postmasters, daycare providers, mechanics, ranchers – who make their living outside of the medical profession but are ready to drop what they are doing – morning, noon and night – to answer a call for help.

This week I visited with the volunteers who typically answer the call in my community, Geyser. The Geyser crew has one EMT, Pat Antonich, three A-EMTs – Kris Hill, Mary Hill and Bruce Evans – and three ambulance drivers – Ken Annala, Clayton Annala and Jake Annala. Tom Cripps can also drive if he’s needed. 

EMTs must have extensive training, while drivers have to take First Aid and the same CPR training responders take. Ken Annala said their driver’s licenses are also checked for driver certification and they must have knowledge of the radio.

The patient typically determines the hospital he/she is taken to. Geyser resident Shawn Neilson, who is a registered nurse at Benefis, said if the patient has no preference and is not trauma or cardiac, Benefis and the Clinic Hospital alternate weeks of where EMS can take them. If the patient requests to be taken to CMMC in Lewistown, the Geyser EMS crew will head east unless the patient has cardiac problems.

This dedicated handful of people were to meet last week at the Geyser Essential Services Building (three of them were available for comment) to train on their newest piece of equipment, the LUCAS 2 Chest Compression System. It can deliver effective, consistent and continuous chest compressions on non-responsive (no spontaneous breathing or pulse and unconscious) adults.

“In CPR they’re finding that the number-one most important thing is good chest compressions,” Neilson said. “That’s why the advent of these devices.”

Each EMS crew in the county has a Lucas. They were provided through a grant from the Helmsley Charitable Trust. Judith Basin EMS Coordinator Suzanne Aune said the grant came through the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. According to helmsleytrust.org, Montana was among seven states that were provided more than 2,000 LUCAS 2 devices.

A couple of weeks ago EMS personnel trained on this equipment with Hobson A-EMT Bernard Taylor.

Antonich said the crew is expected to get the Lucas out and on the patient in 11 seconds, but they must stop the ambulance in order to analyze the results of its use and report these findings to the hospital. It is not something that should be used if it can’t be positioned safely or correctly on the patient’s chest.

Antonich explained the proper way to place the Lucas 2 on the patient. She and Hill then attempted to demonstrate this positioning, explaining that manual CPR would be started until the Lucas device was ready.  Unfortunately, the dummy the two responders were using did not allow the pressure pad and the suction cup to work properly.

“This dummy has seen better days,” Ken Annala said.

When asked if the volunteers have used the Lucas yet, Hill answered with an emphatic, ”No! We want to know how to use it, but we don’t want to have to use it.”

Antonich and Hill showed me a second valuable piece of equipment available to them. It is called LIFEPAK 15 and is a combination of monitor and defibrillator. It constantly monitors heart rate and alerts the responder to sudden changes. It provides a printout to the hospital, giving healthcare providers more time to prepare for the patient on his/her way to the hospital in the ambulance.

Geyser EMS members shared their reasons for volunteering.

Ken said he volunteers with EMS for the community.

“We’re trying to provide a service for our community,” he said.

Antonich agreed. She said she figured it was something she was willing to do.

“To get up and go whenever I’m needed,” she added.

Originally, Hill had a more personal reason for taking the EMT training. A couple members of her family found themselves in emergency situations and she wanted to know what to do for them.

“Especially living where we do,” Hill said.

Judith Basin County has 1,871 square miles, giving its 1,991 residents plenty of room to spread out.

“You’re not necessarily supposed to treat your own family,” Hill added, “but there’s still the need.”

Because of the small number of residents in the county, volunteers are aware the odds of knowing someone involved in an emergency are higher here than they would be in a larger city. 

The county’s EMS crews also get many calls for help on Highway 87.

“It takes a certain kind of person to do this,” said Fern Kaiser, who sits on the Geyser Emergency Services board.

“There’s training involved,” she added, “so there’s a commitment to train, to recertify and to keep up on your skills. And there’s the commitment to drop whatever you’re doing, no matter how you feel, whatever hour of the day, to chase a call down.”

This type of commitment does not work for everyone.

EMS volunteers must have good physical health, must see well and must be able to lift. They must be 18 years of age.

Geyser EMS welcomes newcomers. They noted it is always good to have someone to work alongside with and to share responsibilities.

 “We do this together,” Ken said

An EMT training is being offered this fall. Anyone interested in working for his/her community is encouraged to sign up. EMS volunteers answer close to half of the nation’s 911 calls, up to 90 percent of these in rural states. Aune told the Press on Tuesday that among the three services in Judith Basin County, EMTs answer about 12 calls per month.

According to recent statistics, in just a few years, half of the population in the United States will be over 50 years of age; consequently, the call volume will increase. Volunteers are needed.

Shawn Neilson has recently become a CPR instructor and looks forward to bringing this training to the Judith Basin County communities. She just needs a space that includes a television and DVD player.



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