New Ind. EMS agency offers free lift assists

"People thoroughly enjoy being here and responding to people in the community," said Cass County EMS B shift Supervisor Melissa Barrie


Kirsten Adair
Pharos-Tribune, Logansport, Ind.

CASS COUNTY, Ind. — Cass County Emergency Medical Service is striving to give patients the best care possible and keep Cass County and its residents safe.

EMS Director Mikel Fort said the program, which began operating Dec. 13, started strong and has caring crews who are passionate about the work they are doing in the community.

"People thoroughly enjoy being here and responding to people in the community," said Cass County EMS B shift Supervisor Melissa Barrie. "They do everything they can to help us. I love having coworkers that feel that way."

One way the service shows its dedication to the community is by providing free lift assists. Many other EMS departments charge a small fee for lift assists, which require helping someone get off the ground or into another position. Fort said he feels like providing the service free of charge is an easy way to give back.

However, Cass County EMS gets called for more than just lift assists. Fort said crews do not always receive many details about situations before they arrive on scene, so it is important that the emergency medical technicians (EMT) and paramedics who work on the ambulances are ready for anything.

"Nothing is more unsettling than not knowing what we're doing," Fort said. "If we don't know what's over there, our own personal safety is at risk. The first thing we teach at any class, first and foremost, is personal safety. If we're not safe, then we can't help somebody else."

County officials learned this past October that the county's contract with Phoenix Paramedic Solutions would end in December, giving officials two months to launch an ambulance service.

Cass County EMS now has three ambulances and about 18 crew members. Each shift is 24 hours long, and employees spend one day on call before having two days off. Cass County EMS has three different shifts, labeled A, B, and C.

The EMTs and paramedics have to think on their feet and stay calm under stressful conditions. EMTs are able to give patients CPR, oxygen and glucose, as well as bandage wounds and apply restraints. Paramedics have additional certifications that allow them to insert IVs, administer medication to patients and perform some other emergency procedures.

Barrie said there is never a typical day because every situation is different from the last.

"We learn something new every day," she said.

The ambulances are organized by the crews using them. Each ambulance contains backboards and restraints, IVs, medication, gauze, surgical tape, an automated external defibrillator, blood pressure cuffs, tubes, oxygen and much more.

In addition to assessing patients, EMS employees must write down everything they observe about the patient and anything they do to help the patient. They cannot officially diagnose anything, but providing the hospital with a detailed report helps hospital staff know what to do when the patient is transferred to their care.

"There's a lot of liability for anything we do," EMT Skyler Borruff said.

"There's liability for what we don't do," EMT Tyler Commons added. "We're always going to go out and help people regardless."

Still, they said it can be difficult to determine what is happening to a patient, especially if the person if unconscious. They must use their best judgement to do what is best for the patient.

"The human body is really weird," Commons said.

There are not continuous emergencies every day, however. During their downtime, EMS employees often spend time in the EMS stations. There are scanners there that play loudly enough for everyone to hear when there is an emergency. Some days can be busy, but the paramedics and EMTs still have plenty to do when calls are few and far between.

"It depends on the day," EMT Holly Bishop said. "There's days that we won't see the station for hours. Then there are days that we're just kind of hanging out and cleaning."

Cass County EMS has two different stations at High Street and Spear Street. Each station has a garage for ambulances and living quarters for whichever shift is working.

EMS employees said Cass County's stations are nicer than most. Some employees said previous ambulance services they worked for did not have any kind of living quarters at all. Some services required paramedics and EMTs to stay inside their ambulance for the duration of their entire shift.

"It's kind of nice not to have to sit in the truck," Bishop said. "It's definitely nice to have someplace to come back to and not have to use the restroom at a gas station."

Fort thought it was important to give his employees a place to rest. There are multiple bedrooms at each station, and he bought each bedroom a wall-mounted television using his own money. He said it is important to him that employees feel at home. B shift EMTs said one man even brings his dog to the station when he works.

"There's a lot of burnout in EMS, and having a service where the county and director go out of their way to have what you need in unheard of," Barrie said. "It's really nice."

Each station also has a den and a kitchen. The kitchen at the High Street quarters is still in progress, though, so for now, the shifts gather at the Spear Street station to cook and eat food together. Whatever they make, it has to be quick in case they receive a call. B Shift said their go-to meals are usually tacos or breakfast food.

Fort said he would like to eventually have one location large enough to fit everyone. For now, though, he's happy with the two locations that have been transformed into the service's homes.

EMS employees are responsible for cleaning the stations and ambulances, and usually each ambulance crew takes turns. If one crew cleans the station, the other crew cleans the ambulances.

They also look into additional training when calls are slow. EMS employees can register for classes that demonstrate different skills, teach additional certifications and detail what to do in particular types of emergencies.

Each class costs money, but EMS employees said the classes are helpful and they enjoy broadening their skillset.

"I think the people of Cass County deserve the full scope of what we can offer them," Bishop said.

Bishop signed up for a course on advanced body language. She said a patient's body language can help her determine how to initially approach them. Particular signs can also indicate that the patient is about to have a seizure.

In addition to helping others, EMS employees also have to monitor their own mental health. Some of the things they see at accident scenes stick with them, and they said having hobbies and finding constructive ways to decompress are very important.

Borruff said there has always been stigma around talking about mental health, especially for first responders. However, he wants to change that.

"I try to advocate to break the cycle of years and years of avoiding talking about things," he said.

Borruff said advocating for people and giving back is ultimately what lies at the heart of EMS providers.

"Even if I have to go out at 3 a.m. to help lift someone off the ground, that's what EMS is about — giving back to the community," he said. "That's what this is really about."

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(c)2022 the Pharos-Tribune (Logansport, Ind.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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