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By Alan Laird, MD, Chief Medical Officer

Last time I talked about “‘tis the season for flu shots.” This time I would like to point out what we all know, ‘Tis the season for lights… but hopefully not lights and sirens.

We often speak this time of year about what we are thankful for. I am thankful for the professionals at all levels of our local health systems that I get to work with. Many, many of them are unsung heroes that improve everyone’s life by quietly doing their jobs. There are too many to list. I would like to highlight one group however, and that is our local emergency medical services members. Many of you know we are in the process of updating our emergency vehicles. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which an older unit having over 200,000 miles. I was surprised to learn that number and wondered why it would be so high? I mean how many runs around Orange City does it take to put on 200,000 miles? So I asked our crews to break down the kinds of calls they get. 78% of the time, they are going out to get someone with a medical emergency. And the most common reason is that someone has fallen. The second most likely reason is for an illness. The more common things we think of an ambulance racing toward (motor vehicle accident or heart attack) are 3rd and 4th on our list in this area. But, remember they are going on a 911 (emergency) call 78% of the time. 22% of the time they are moving a patient from our facility to a higher level of care. That means 1 out of 5 times you see the ambulance on the road they are leaving or returning to their home base. And it is not just to Sioux City or Sioux Falls. They may be heading to Omaha, Rochester, Iowa City, Mason City or even Ottumwa. Those runs can rack up miles quickly. In fact, they may leave Northwest Iowa more frequently than many of our families do. For clarification sake, these stats include all the crews that receive medical direction from the Orange City Area Health System (OC, Alton, Granville, Hospers and Paullina).

The second reason for an upgrade is technology. While the ambulance is very important to bring you skilled people to help with your emergency, those people need their tools to be effective. In this day and age, that means technology. It also means a power plant to supply electricity for the technology. I have an old laptop computer at my house, but I would not want my life to depend on that laptop (especially with as long as it takes to boot up). Upgrading the ambulance is not just about the miles on the chassis, it is about the power and technology inside that box on back.

Of course a brand new ambulance with cool tech is useless without the properly trained people to operate it. It is the faithful personnel (most of them volunteer) who staff those vehicles that make it all possible. I have pointed out before, that like the heroes in the police cars and fire trucks, these heroes will drop everything at a moment’s notice to respond to your call for help. They don’t say, “Sorry, I have other plans tonight,” or “The roads aren’t good, maybe after the storm passes,” or “Were you doing something stupid?” They go in all types of weather, all times of the day and night and often to unknown situations. It is not a job you do to get rich. It is a job you do because you care about others. It also means they may be accompanying you on a trip to Sioux City, Sioux Falls or even to a more distant destination. That seems like very admirable motivation in this season when we honor The Gift given to us.

So at the end of this, may I challenge you. If you feel called to serve on your local EMS team, please talk to any member of the crew or their agency about what that looks like. It is a way you can serve others and give back to the community. There is financial help available depending on the training you wish to pursue. With the busyness of our ambulance crews (over 900 calls between our five crews in 2018), more hands mean help to avoid burnout of those willing to serve. It is hard, but it is rewarding. May your Christmas season, be merry, be safe and full of lights…. Just not lights and sirens.

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