More than 40 years ago, emergency medical services in Marion County were provided by the local funeral home, said EMT Gene Winkler, who remembers it well.
Prior to 1971, the transport vehicle was a hearse and there wasn?t a lot that could be done for someone, he said.
?The mortuary was only able to scoop them up and take them to the hospital,? Winkler said.
After the county took over, a small van, like an ambulance, was purchased and about five or six people took the first 80-hour EMT class.
?When I took my class,? he said, ?the state said we weren?t getting enough hours, so we drove to Newton every night for two to three weeks to get enough hours for our license.?
Winkler said in those early years, the only help for a patient was applying oxygen and transporting.
?We didn?t have defibrillators and the other things we have now.?
It was a little better than the mortuary, Winkler said.
?At least we had a 1971 Econoline unit, and it was the first one here in town.?
In addition to Marion, Hillsboro and Peabody also had vehicles, but all the calls were via a landline telephone.
When someone was on call, Winkler said they would leave a phone number with the sheriff?s office.
Communication devices progressed through the years with pagers, and then radios.
?That was really stepping up when you could go someplace or be around town,? he said. ?It just started getting better and better until now everybody has cell phones.?
Every call is different
?No two calls were identical in any way, shape or form,? Winkler said.
?Even if it was a sick call, you would get to a house and there were 20 steps to get up or the person is in an upper bedroom.?
The emergencies ranged from car accidents and heart attacks to patient transfers and standby at sporting events, he said.
?When dispatched out to a car accident, we know there?s been an accident and we know people are hurt, but we don?t know the severity or how many people are involved,? he said. ?(The dispatcher) just says there has been an accident.?
Once at the scene, Winkler said he starts assessing how many people are injured and if another ambulance is needed.
When it came to sporting events, he said EMTs needed to be at the football games.
If a football player got injured, Winkler said, the safest thing to do was not remove the helmet, but instead use it as stabilizer.
?We would leave the helmet on and tape it down to the board and keep the player in that position,? he said. ?So many times I see someone get their bell rung out there and the first thing that happens is someone will pull off the helmet.
?If it?s a neck injury, there?s a chance of paralyzing them for the rest of their life.?
People don?t always know the best thing to do, he added.
With a slight tremble in his voice, Winkler talked about a call years ago involving a young person who had drown at the Marion County Lake.
?I started CPR right away and tried to revive them, but we later found out there was brain damage,? he said. ?We do what we are trained to do, but sometimes it is overwhelming.?
Another difficult call happened several years ago on U.S. Highway 50 at the end of Sunflower Road.
?A semi ran into the back of a pickup and pushed it into the back of another truck, and it caught on fire,? he said.
The two people were killed. The next day, there was another accident involving a semi that ran into the back of some other cars, hitting the back end of a rock truck.
?There were five fatalities that day,? he said. ?So we had seven to eight fatalities in two days time and that was tough.
?You can go for days and there are no calls, but then you have two or three calls in one day?some may not be major?but some are.?
One disadvantage of living in a small town is knowing most of the people affected.
Winkler said he thinks within five years, the county will no longer have a volunteer service, and it will be paid service with paramedics on board.
If that happens, and for it to be cost-effective with the county, Winkler said he sees only two ambulances making runs.
?One would be in Marion and one in Hillsboro and maybe building a place at the Canada corner, centrally located,? he said.
?I could see having people in that station, like they do in Newton, and respond directly from there with those couple of ambulances covering the entire county.?
Winkler said he believes the county has to provide the service, whether it is through a private company or higher taxes.
According to Winkler, few people can continue to afford spending the amount of time it takes for the classes.
?When I was taking call, I would be taking 280 hours a month and would be on 12 hours a day, doing it five to six days a week,? he said.
Unfortunately, work as an EMT is something the county wants to have, but there are no benefits.
It?s been rewarding
?I am probably going to miss it, but I have gotten to the point where I just need to take time to do some of the other things (in life) and not worry about if I am on-call or can?t go out of town or can?t do this or that,? he said.
In October, Winkler said he cut back on his time and by November, he was only taking calls when someone wasn?t able to do it.
?If somebody absolutely can?t (work) and rather than put the ambulance out of service, I will probably step in at least until next year when my license runs out,? he said.
One thing he said he wished he would have done was start a diary to keep track of his calls.
?I think to see how many calls I made would have been something,? he said.
?Sixty percent of my life has been spent as an EMT,? he said, ?and at age 71, I don?t want to be on an ambulance run and have a heart attack, which happened to someone I know.?
?I have loved it, but it is not for a 71-year-old,? he said. ?Somebody else needs to step up and take charge.?
Steve Sutton, executive director of the Kansas Board of Emergency Medical Services, spoke about Winkler?s dedication.
?Gene made the commitment several years ago to become certified and the maintenance of that certification for that length of time easily demonstrates a commitment to oneself, family and community,? he said.
Kansas EMS, especially in rural areas, he said, depends on individuals within the community, whether volunteers, part-time or full-time, to support the Emergency Medical Services System that supports their community.