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Wis. EMTs looks back on 50 years of service

Larry Ganske and Kris Kruckman look at what has changed in EMS since they started

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An Eau Claire Fire Rescue ambulance.

Eau Claire Fire Rescue/Facebook

By Aidan Sanfelippo
The Leader-Telegram

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — After keeping their licenses for over half a century, two former emergency medical technicians said emergency medical services have changed considerably since they started.

Larry Ganske has spent 53 years as a licensed EMT.

He said he completed his EMT courses when he was a senior in high school in 1971. The former provider in his area, a funeral home, had recently gone out of business.

“There was a community effort at that time to put a volunteer ambulance service together and I was very interested in health careers at that time,” said Ganske. “I took the course and got involved.”

Ganske said he graduated and went to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. He was the first licensed EMT, at that time called ambulance attendant, in La Crosse County.

He had spent some time with other EMS and trained multiple future EMTs with the Wisconsin Technical College System. Ganske also started a non-career volunteer ambulance service in the 1980s.

Kris Kruckman said he graduated from EMT training in 1973 and served as an EMT for both Eau Claire and Chippewa counties through a “private ambulance service”. He also was hired by Eau Claire Fire and Rescue in 1973.

Kruckman was the Battalion Chief of Emergency Medical Services when he retired and has kept up his license to continue to teach about EMS, Criminal Justice, and Fire for the Chippewa Valley Technical College.

He has taught at CVTC for 42 years and started during his time with the fire department, said Kruckman.

The Eau Claire Fire Department has 102 firefighters which are all staff members, said Fire Inspector Jason Knecht. They had nearly 10,572 rounds in the year of 2023.

EMS has changed significantly in the time that Ganske and Kruckman have been licensed.

Kruckman said when he started the training was free and took only 81 hours. Now it takes nearly 200 hours of training and costs “hundreds of dollars”.

At this point, people looking to become an EMT will have more thorough training, said Kruckman. This includes clinical and more technological training equipment.

When the two started, EMS specifically had the ability to transport people, said Ganske. Now they are able to treat patients from the ambulance while transporting them and even start care when people call emergency services through technology like automated external defibrillators and through the help of 911 dispatchers.

“Well into the 90s we really started to provide specific interventions to a patient in the ambulance before we got to the hospital. Then in the late ’90s, where we are today, we have AEDs, we have Stop the Bleed kits, we have Narcan,” said Ganske.

An issue facing EMS today is the lack of volunteers.

Ganske noted that being an EMT can be a dangerous role which has led to fewer volunteers. Hazards potentially harming the safety of EMTs ranges from blood-borne diseases to fentanyl.

“I know of people that said enough is enough…” said Ganske. “Many of us are doing this and are elderly or we are taking care of elderly parents. I know one in particular stopped because he was concerned about bringing COVID home to his parents that he was caring for at home.”

Other factors that have led to a decrease in volunteers includes the occupation’s large commitment, the large amount of required education, and a change in society around people’s willingness to volunteer, said Kruckman.

One way to possibly help with that is to offer incentives for volunteers.

“Some communities have a reward system for either tax break or tuition reimbursement. Things that give them some kind of incentive for staying with the program,” said Kruckman.

They have noticed the lack of volunteers in the nation; one example is Cassville which has put up signs looking for volunteers. The city of Eau Claire does not have any volunteers and employs each of its 102 firefighters.

“The public expects us to be there but there isn’t enough of us to be there,” said Ganske.

Making sure the public is aware of what EMS can provide is another important aspect to look at in the future, said Ganske.

While in-town EMS can be there within three to five minutes, according to Kruckman, Ganske said it could take an hour or two before ambulances can reach a person in rural spaces.

Many rural areas also rely on ambulance services from other municipalities if their ambulances are working or unavailable, this can lead to “delays in response times for rural areas”, said Ganske.

Another effect on EMS is hospital facility closures which means ambulances have to travel longer distances to get to healthcare facilities, said Ganske. This extends the response time for ambulances.

Recognizing EMS week can help these services, said Ganske. The 50th anniversary will be celebrated between May 19 to 25.

(c)2024 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.)
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