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A matter of life and death

Remaining professional is critical for EMTs

December 29, 2010
By Dorothy McKnight

ESCANABA - The "I have your back and you have mine" camaraderie that exists in may workplaces is more than just a mutual support team for employees. For the emergency medical technicians who work for Rampart EMS in Escanaba, including Amy Anderson, it's a matter of life and death - emotional life and death.

Handling serious emergencies, physical injuries and even death on an almost daily basis would be extremely difficult for the average individual to handle. But by all appearances, for the EMT's is only another day at the office.

But it isn't.

Article Photos

Amy Anderson, a graduate of Mid Peninsula High School, attended Northern Michigan University and studied medical technology until her husband enlisted in the Air Force in 1985. (Daily Press photo by Dorothy McKnight)

According the Amy, who has worked for Rampart for almost 18 years, not everyone is equipped, either physically or emotionally, to handle the job.

"It's part of our training, but I believe that it's also something that certain people are gifted to do and are blessed with the ability to do it," said Amy. "There's no way that any of us would be able to stay in this job if we didn't have that kind of ability. Every person handles things differently. An emergency you see may be very traumatic and hard for you to deal with, but it might not seem to bother me at all."

There's almost a "detachment" that has to take place when an EMT is dealing with a very traumatic situation, according to Amy. "Immediately you have to put the patient first and consider what's the best treatment we can provide to this patient because, all too often, it is up to us," she said. "We're not emotionless. This is a small community and very often we're dealing with family and friends. But you have to put your own emotions in check and let your training take over. That's the time when we have to put on our professional face and just do our job and consider what's best for this particular patient. It's afterward that the reality sets in. Here at Rampart we have such a great group of people who help each other cope with the stress. This place is like a family. We support each other."

On occasions when the coping is extremely difficult to handle, professional therapists are called in to assist. "That works very, very well, too," she added.

Amy said she had a desire to be involved in the medical field since high school.

The youngest of three children, Amy was born and raised in the Osier area, north of Rapid River. She attended school in Perkins and graduated from Mid Peninsula High School in 1983. She and her high school sweetheart, Ed Anderson, were married that same year.

Amy attended Northern Michigan University and began studies in medical technology until her husband enlisted in the Air Force in 1985. While Ed underwent basic training in Texas, Amy remained in the local area but later joined her husband in Great Falls, Mont., where Ed was assigned to Malmstrom Force Base for four years.

"We moved there in April and I had our son, Matthew, in May," Amy said. Their second child, daughter Ashley, was born the following year. After Ed was discharged from the military, the couple returned to Delta County. Ed began working for a Marquette company that built airplane de-icers and Amy worked part-time jobs., including coaching for the Mid Pen girls' basketball team and assisted with the school's track program.

"But I was basically a stay-at-home mom," she said. "It was very important to both Ed and myself that I stay home with the children until they started school. That was our priority at that time. My career was on hold until then."

Coincidentally it was a serious accident in 1990 that redirected Amy's life and led her into the field that would change her life completely. While visiting at the home of her in-laws, a motorcyclist was involved in a collision with a deer about a mile and a half from their home.

"My brother-in-law was a volunteer fireman and he was paged to the scene," said Amy. "Then my sister-in-law and I went to see if there was anything we could do to help. When we got there it was a terrible scene and I had absolutely no idea what to do to help that poor man. It was the most helpless feeling in the world. When the ambulance came, I was so impressed by their abilities. They knew just what to do. That did something inside of me. I knew I needed this training."

The following day, Amy was on the telephone making calls to see what she needed to do to work on an ambulance. She first available class was a first responder class from the late Venetia Bryers, former owner/operator of Rampart EMS.

"It was a three-month class that met two nights a week, four hours a night, learning basic life-saving techniques," Amy explained. "As soon as I finished and received my certificate, I became a volunteer with the Rock Ambulance."

lly have a job with them.

To expand her training, Amy signed on to begin the classes required to become an emergency medical technician.

"When I worked as a volunteer on the ambulance, I loved it so much I couldn't wait for the first available EMT class," she said. "I started that in 1992 and finished six months later."

"Here I was, as a student doing on-the-job training and while riding along at Rampart, Venetia asked, 'Would you like to work here?' 'Sure!' I said. It was like my dream job. I felt very honored to be able to work here! I never thought of this as a career, only as a volunteer. This invitation turned out to be a lifelong career decision. After working at Rampart, I knew this was what I wanted to do as a career. I wanted to move up to the next level and become a paramedic."

Three months after becoming a licensed EMT, she began Paramedic training that took more than a full year, while still working as an EMT for Rampart. The Paramedic class was very extensive training including advanced life support requiring hundreds of both classroom and clinical hours. Throughout the years, Amy has been able to balance her career and her family, which now includes her hubby, who has been a postal worker in Escanaba for the past 15 years, her two children and three grandchildren - 3 1/2-year-old twins, Xzavier and Alexander, and 2-year-old Zachary.

Amy is also took additional training to become an EMS instructor. She currently participates in instructing Medical First Responder, EMT, Paramedic classes, and several special training programs. She also teaches continuing education classes that are required for all emergency medical professionals to keep their license.

"I really enjoy teaching," Amy said. "It's very rewarding to be able to help some of the younger folks coming up and share my knowledge from years of experience in this field. It also helps me stay up-to-date on new treatments and technology."

When not involved in their jobs, Ed and Amy own and operate "Splat-U-Later, a paintball business they have run out of their home for the past 10 years.

"We got involved in it because of my husband's uncle who was in his 70's," Amy said. "He was doing it downstate on his property and we tried it and loved it." Amy said Splat-U-Later has grown bigger than they imagined. "We carry a full line of paintball supplies and have paintball fields for people to come and play at," she added. "We have paintball leagues, tournaments, and our field is used for all kinds of paintball parties. We also have target shoots at the U.P. State Fair and Gladstone 4th of July celebration. The company's equipment is also available for rent and supplies are available for purchase."

Having an outside interest is especially important in Amy's line of work. One of the couple's favorite activities is geocaching, a treasure hunting game where GPS's are used to hide and seek containers with other participants in the activity. The Andersons have started up a geocaching club in the local area. Meetings are held the first Wednesday of every month at the DNR building at the Pocket Park on the fairgrounds at 7 p.m.

As if her life wasn't involved enough, Amy said she was diagnosed with Chron's disease, a form of inflammatory bowel disease, about seven years ago. When the condition flares up, Amy said it's makes it difficult for her to work.

"But even with Crohn's, I can still stay very active and still work. I try not to let it slow m down."

But as devoted as Amy is to her job, her family, and her other activities, all are completely compartmentalized in her life.

"There's no way you can bring your job home with you," she said. "When I leave here, I change from being a paramedic to being a wife and mom. I never speak about what I've done at work when I get home. You just can't do that."

Amy said she has specific advice for anyone interested in becoming an EMT.

"I would advise anyone to realize that it takes a special person for this job," she said. "You see a lot of very sick people and a lot of injured people and you have to deal with that. But this is an awesome job. It can also be very exciting. When it comes to the adrenaline surge, the trick is knowing when to use it and when to harness it. But it's not only the emotional drain," she added. "We also keep long hours and long shifts. I can't remember a 24-hour shift without a call. We are also required to carry a pager and be immediately available for calls."

So when the shift is over, it may not be the end of a day's work for the busy EMT.

"When I'm snug in my bed and it's 4 in the morning and get a call from dispatch sending me to a call, I ask myself, 'What was I thinking!' Maybe a desk job would have been a much better choice," she said with a grin.

So just why would anyone want to deal with all of this?

The career, she said, appeals to individuals who crave variation in the workplace.

"The job of an EMT is ever-changing," said Amy. "There's no two days the same and that really appeals to me. I wouldn't want to do a job that's the same day after day."

But there's more...

"The good news is that there are a lot of positive things," Amy said. "It's a wonderful feeling to see people who are very sick or hurt and instead of dying, they're alive and get to go home." Advancing technology has also made the work of an EMT even more satisfying. "When I think of what it was like when I started 20 years ago as a first responder," she added, "I can't help but think of all the technology that was not available back then that has helped so much in saving people's lives."



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