Since the Upsala First Response team was formed in 1980, and the most experienced of the Swanville Emergency Medical Service (EMS) squad began four decades ago, Western Morrison County has been in great hands.
And these volunteers are happy to help.
“We get to help people, especially in a time of crisis and they are desperately in need of help,” said Rhonda Alnes, a member of the Swanville EMS. “That’s why we do it.”
Rhonda and her husband, Brian, are both on the 14-member EMS squad. Brian has been an EMT for 34 years.
This is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when these members literally risk their lives to save others.
“Most of us are in the medical field and we are going to be there to help, and if that means risking our life, we do that, because you want to help them,” Rhonda said. “We’re going to be there.”
Of course that also means there are some extra precautions taken,
In Upsala, that means fewer people will go into houses or vehicles to limit exposure, while other members of the team may assist elsewhere.
The same goes for Swanville.
“If it is required, maybe only one of our team members will go in with all the PPE (personal protective equipment) on, and assess the situation,” Rhonda said.
Anyone who calls 911 gets asked extra questions and county dispatchers inform first responders if there are virus symptoms or if the victim has been in contact with anyone who has been exposed.
“As of now, we haven’t seen a lot of calls and hopefully it stays that way,” said Garrett Doucette, vice president of Upsala EMS. “But we do treat any call with a little more due diligence.”
Apart from the pandemic, some other difficulties that Doucette and Rhonda and Brian Alnes said EMS has to deal with include having to go on calls where children are involved, having to deal with emotionally supporting family members, knowing victims and getting enough volunteers.
“When we run applications, it is not everybody’s cup of tea to get up at two in the morning and to help others or leave a dinner,” Doucette said. “I think people in all teams are in a struggle to find volunteers.”
Both said that there are sometimes calls when only one or two responders are available, especially since many volunteers work out of town.
Members of EMS squads work elsewhere, many work in the medical field as nurses, but others include truck drivers, pastors, mechanics, jailers, grave diggers, bus drivers and even a mayor.
“We are grateful for the community and all the first responders out there, because there are calls where other teams come and help, and it is great to see that,” Rhonda said.
Many of these brave people volunteer their time to gain training, take classes and every two years must take a refresher course.
And the community takes notice. Since the pandemic began, many people in both communities have donated homemade masks.
“We get thank yous every once in a while, and families that you help do donate,” Brian said. “We not only are volunteers, but we have to raise the funds to buy the equipment that we use.”
Doucette said they often get letters and thank you notes, and the Upsala EMS usually host a luncheon over the Memorial Day weekend, but due to the pandemic, it will not take place this year.
“A lot of people are disappointed they can’t come support us that way,” Doucette said.
However, recognition is not why they do it.
“We’re not in it for the fanfare,” Brian said. “This is not downtown New York either, and we don’t have thousands of people that can honk their horns, but that’s not why we do it.”