On the front lines

Updated: August 16, 2010 - 8:40 am


Faces of HCMC // Emergency medical services

The whump of whirling helicopter blades grew louder as paramedics Dan Gelle and Randy Lundeen stood poised with a stretcher in a small room at the edge of Hennepin County Medical Center’s (HCMC) helipad.

After the chopper landed and the engine wound down, the men sprung into action, rolling the stretcher to the aircraft and promptly returning with a young boy who was badly burned. As paramedic supervisor Michael Rogers comforted the grimacing child, the paramedics rolled him into the hospital elevator and to the Burn Center for treatment.

Transferring patients from helicopters arriving from throughout the state and western Wisconsin is a daily part of the job for employees in HCMC’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Department. EMS answers roughly 150 emergency calls a day across a 266-square-mile, 14-city area with a population of roughly 700,000. They are the first responders, spending each day on the front lines of human crisis.

“It’s stressful in that you go from periods of intense demands, either in terms of attention, physical exertion or emotionally-charged situations,” said Charlie Moen, a former paramedic who now manages the EMS Education Department. “But it’s in juxtaposition with periods of relative inactivity and waiting.” 

Paramedics need to be action-oriented, independent-thinking problem solvers and excellent communicators, Moen said. There’s no telling what emergencies each day will bring, so paramedics need to be prepared for anything, from a cut finger to cardiac arrest. That’s why each of HCMC’s 19 ambulances — and those of four other services in the region that work in conjunction with HCMC — are equipped with everything from gauze to defibrillators and cardiac monitors. 

“All the tools you need to manage critical life threatening medical emergencies and trauma emergencies for adult and pediatric cases,” said Brian Mahoney, medical director for EMS and an emergency physician.

With the lights flashing and siren blaring, all that equipment rattled and shook as HCMC emergency medical technicians Ron Miller and Jonathan Thomalla sped through Downtown on the way to a report of a man who was feeling short of breath. On the scene, they found no one, despite help from others in the area. They returned to the ambulance and waited for the next call.

“It’s definitely not like a fixed office job where you do the same thing every day,” Thomalla said.