Wis. EMS operations manager reflects on the best part of the job
Aspirus MedEvac Operations Manager Jessica Montgomery said no two days are ever the same
By Nicholas Walczak
WAUSAU, Wis. — For Jessica Montgomery, the best and worst parts of her job are the same: People.
Those who are saved by EMS workers, and those who can’t be.
“The worst part of the job is when you get to someone who does not have a pulse, and you can’t get them back,” said Montgomery, operations manager of Aspirus MedEvac in Portage. “That is when you get the defeat feeling.”
Wisconsin has just over 17,000 EMS workers who provide pre-hospital care during some of patients’ worst days.
Portage has a contract with Aspirus Hospital that provides the city and surrounding towns with EMS services. The hospital group has various locations throughout Wisconsin, covering as far south as Columbia County and as far north as Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Always thinking of herself as the type of person who likes to help “in any way shape or form,” Montgomery started her EMS career as an EMT in Milwaukee in 2003 and worked her way up to a critical care paramedic, for which she is still licensed for, she said.
One of her favorite parts of being in patient care was that no two days were the same.
“I never knew if I was going to run one emergency call in a day or 10,” she said. “Or (if an emergency call) was going to be someone with a broken leg or a heart attack. You never knew what you were walking into that day, and that is what I liked. That fed the adventure side of me.”
Now that she’s the operations manager, Montgomery said, she doesn’t get to do as much hands-on patient care as she would like to. But she likes the management side of things, too, she said, because as much as she’s always liked being the one there to help, she has always thought of herself as a leader.
“Since I am the manager now, I’m not on the actual truck doing patient care anymore,” Montgomery said. “But since I am still licensed, I have the ability to hop on the ambulance and help out if I am needed.”
To maintain her critical care paramedic license, she has to complete 84 hours of continuing education courses every three years, Montgomery said.
In Baraboo, fire and EMS services combined at the beginning of 2023 to form the Baraboo Fire and EMS District. The joint department received a major boost of employees over the past year after nine former Dells-Delton EMS workers joined, including their local union president, Spencer Nett.
Working in a smaller city is “dynamic,” said Nett, adding that all calls are different.
The summer has been busy for the new joint department, fellow responder Denise Schreiner said.
Cross training has been instrumental in establishing the Baraboo Fire and EMS District, which is the first dual-trained department in Sauk County, Nett said.
Sawyer Schmitt started as a firefighter in the fall of 2022, but also worked with Nett and Schreiner at Dells-Delton.
“It made the transition a little more smooth, them knowing me and me knowing them,” Schmitt said.
“The biggest change has been going from just an EMS side to being cross-trained employees,” Nett said, adding that being able to respond to both fire and EMS calls benefits the public more.
Schreiner also had previous experience as a firefighter in Baraboo before working at Dells-Delton, and Nett sees her as a mentor for fire training.
“I think I speak for all of us when I say that the camaraderie here is very close-knit,” Nett said. “There are a large majority of us that are friends outside of just these four walls. We see each other as more of a family than we do coworkers.”
Baraboo Fire Chief Kevin Stieve and EMS Chief Caleb Johnson have both been supportive of the EMS workers union that formed in July, Schmitt said. Union membership and negotiation is new to many Baraboo Fire and EMS staff and the two chiefs.
“It’s a learning process for both sides, along with the growing pains of combining two departments,” Schmitt said.
Some members of the Baraboo Fire and EMS District, including Nett, are also members of the Opioid Response Team in Sauk County. The department does follow-ups with narcotic overdose survivors and families of people who died, Nett said.
The department experiences a wide range of travel distance and time, from roughly five minutes to one hour. Some high-level trauma calls require transportation to Madison, as SSM St. Clare Hospital in Baraboo is a Level III trauma center.
Wisconsin has four trauma center levels, according to the state’s Department of Health Services. Level III centers can assess patients and perform resuscitation and stabilization methods, as well as emergency surgery. They also can arrange transfers to Level I and II centers for needed surgical and intensive care.
The Baraboo Fire and EMS District is now fully staffed, but a potential increased call volume from an anticipated population increase from planned housing developments in Baraboo could prompt a need for more staff, Nett said.
Enrolling in fire and EMS introductory courses allows young people to get a feel for the services without having to sacrifice their full-time jobs, Schreiner said.
Being a fully staffed first responder service is a “rare commodity,” Nett said, adding that pay-per-call positions make the hiring process easier for Stieve and Johnson.
The district covers Baraboo, West Baraboo, and the towns of Baraboo, Greenfield and Fairfield, and part of the town of Excelsior.
Wisconsin Dells Events reporter John Gittings contributed to this report.