Larsen on board as EMS director

Jerry Engler / Free Press

Larry Larsen, now on the job as permanent director of Marion County EMS, said knowing so many people in a small town makes ambulance duty tougher for volunteer EMTs: ?You wonder if you did everything you could do, and you feel like others wonder, too.?

Larry Larsen has made Emergency Medical Services so much a part of his life that it was almost no wonder that the Marion County Commission named him head of the EMS department in mid-February.

Larsen, 56, even met his wife, Karen, because of EMS. She is a paramedic and nurse who is the education manager for Midwest Life Team, a helicopter emergency airlift service for this area. They met in paramedic class.

The Larsens are raising three children, Lucas, 12, Brianna, 10 and Kiefer, 9, in the same Peabody area that Larry grew up in.

Larsen actually began his job as temporary EMS director Dec. 19, succeeding Daryl Thiessen. After considering other applicants, the commissioners made the appointment permanent.

Larsen took his first cardiopulmonary resuscitation class in 1977 from long-time EMS director JoAnn Knak. He also took an EMT class from her in 1987 and was certified in 1988.

Larsen said his first certification came as a by-product of an order then from the sheriff?s office requiring that all ambulance drivers take a defensive driving course.

?Before that, a volunteer didn?t have to have EMT training as long as you had a driver?s license,? he said.

Larsen went a big step further than that in 1992 when he took training to become a paramedic with Sedgwick County EMS for 15 years.

After he retired, he continued with Marion County volunteer work.

Here, Larsen is in charge of 85 volunteers and an office staff that also includes Woody Crawshaw, office manager, Jamie Shirley, business insurance officer.

Life as an EMT can be difficult for him or any of the 85 volunteers, Larsen said. To start with, in a rural county, he said, the patients transported ?are friends or relatives, or friends and relatives of friends.?

?Since you know them, there?s that little extra urgency,? Larsen said. ?You wonder if you did everything you could do, and you feel like others wonder, too. Since everyone knows you and them, they want to ask you what happened.

?Under HIPPA or privacy laws, unless the person asking is their spouse or next of kin, you can?t tell them,? he added. ?You have to guard your response with people you know.

?In Wichita and other places, you still want to do a good job, but chances are you don?t know the people.

?Then I have to do quality control, and review the runs. I might have to remind them for next time to put the oxygen on first, then the heart monitor.

Larsen said continuing education places demands on the volunteers. At every EMT meeting, they are reviewing or studying equipment or procedures?whether it is new ways to give oxygen, child birthing or bone breaks.

Then there is the stress of seeing horrendous situations, Larsen said, such as the head-on collision this weekend of two semi-trucks on U.S. Highway 50 near Peabody.

Larsen takes his EMTs into group sessions to talk about experiences like that?how they are feeling and what their stresses are. That type of therapy is needed by anyone in such stressful, life-and-death work, he said.

Sometimes the therapy also includes the emergency workers who did nothing but crowd control. Larsen said they have to realize their efforts were essential, too.

He wants to retain his 85 volunteers, and is hopeful to gain some more?both to replace those who do leave, and to increase the people available

?I want to retain them, and it?s hard to retain them,? he said.

In small towns, Larsen said, small businessmen and their wives, or women who don?t work outside homes, can be the backbone of volunteer EMT workers.

He cited Gene Winkler, a businessman who has done EMT work for many years in Marion, as an example of a person who will be difficult to replace if he retires from the work.

For being the second-largest town in the county, Larsen said Marion has always struggled to have enough EMTs.

?When a Winkler leaves, it?s tough to pick up the slack,? he said.

From another viewpoint, Larsen said he can?t thank gracious employers enough, ?those people who tell the EMTs that work for them to pick up and go if there?s an ambulance call.?

?They need their people too, and it can be bad timing for their business,? he said. ?But they do the right thing.?

On another front, Larsen said some of the financial problems EMS suffered in the past have been corrected by increasing loaded-mile rates.

The county assesses no extra charge for an ambulance coming to where it is needed, he said, but the fee increases for every mile it travels loaded with a patient.

That and a structured fee charges have brought the county more into line with what it ought to get from Medicare and private insurance companies.

Larsen said it is only fair that if a patient is paying for coverage that it ought to pay more than a 50 percent share against a 50 percent share of county taxes.

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