Paul Epp steps away as an EMT after 20 years of service

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BY DON RATZLAFF
He doesn?t miss the 12-hour shifts of being on call or taking time away from his business, but when Paul Epp hears an ambulance siren wail in Hillsboro, it still tugs at his heartstrings.

That?s understandable, considering Epp served 20 years as a volunteer emergency medical technician with the Hillsboro ambulance crew. Epp ?retired? from the work when his certification expired Dec. 31.

?It?s very rewarding, it?s a good way to help the community and the people you live with,? Epp says of the work. ?It can be very stressful. And if you?re not able to handle someone else?s physical stress, then you probably shouldn?t be there.?

Epp felt the urge to volunteer in 1979. ?There was a fairly significant plea going on for volunteers,? he recalls. ?I think it came through the churches, even.?

Epp saw EMT service as an alternative to joining local service organizations.

He took the training classes for five months beginning in fall 1979, investing two nights a week, plus Saturdays, while he was still teaching music in the local schools and directing the high school pep band at ball games.

Through the years, Epp has seen the gamut of situations, from the most severe to the most benign.

?One of the funniest in my memory was when we were called to a cardiac situation, only to arrive at the curb and seeing the person we were supposed to pick up pacing the porch with suitcase in hand, waiting for a ride,? he says.

The most severe cases have involved death and sometimes dismemberment in traffic accidents. But Epp says he was never shaken by those tragedies.

?That never bothered me,? he said. ?Nothing I?ve seen has kept me awake. I have no nightmares about it and I?ve seen the worst.?

The ability to keep his composure under extreme conditions is one reason he lasted so long.

?I figured that?s why I should keep on doing it,? he said. ?The only time I maybe couldn?t think clearly was when my own daughter had a seizure.?

Otherwise, Epp says he was able to stay focused even when he knew the clients personally.

?Maybe I was a little too calloused,? he said. ?I?m sorry it happened, I?m sad it happened, I?m mad at the guy who did it and that sort of thing?but what can you do about it??

Soon after starting with the local crew, Epp was elected crew captain, a role he filled until two or three years ago.

The extra responsibilities in scheduling and training made it a dubious honor, he said.

What many people don?t realize is the demand EMTs are under simply by being on call between emergencies, Epp says.

?There was always a certain amount of tension on the days when I knew I would be on call,? he recalls. ?You start at six and go until six?it?s a 12-hour shift. You can?t start at five minutes after six because the other guy is done at six.

?You always have to be within hearing distance (of the radio or page),? he says. ?If you?re in the shower, that means the radio is close by and if you?re soapy, it takes a little while to get rid of the soap and get dressed.?

At the height of his involvement, Epp was on call at least three days a week and sometimes two weekends a months, which were 24-hour shifts.

The other difficulty he faced was taking time away from his home-repair and appliance business when he responded to emergencies.

?In my own desire to get a job done in a timely manner, it definitely slowed things up,? he said. ?There is no (ambulance) call you could get done in less than an hour. And for the most part, it was usually an hour and a half by the time you get the page and when you get back and start being productive again.?

That, in the end, was one of the main reasons Epp decided to step away from the crew.

?I was way too involved in the store and my business and in church things,? he said. ?I needed to be at the monthly crew training sessions and I was not getting my recertification hours. I couldn?t afford the time away.?

Epp says his years of service were satisfying and he misses the camaraderie of the local crew.

?I think the Hillsboro crew is really an exceptional crew. I?m proud of them.?

Epp hopes the community continues to support EMTs in whatever way it can.

?Give them as much help as you possible can, in whatever way?even if it?s calling 911 soon enough,? he says. ?If it?s three in the morning, don?t wait til six. Call at three in the morning. There?s somebody ready to come all the time.

?Trust them. That?s what they?re there for. That?s why we did it, so you can have a better life.?

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