Jesse Davis is the Director of the EMS/Paramedic program at ENMU-Roswell. Stacie Nason, Justin Powell, and Rodney Ray teach three levels of this first-responder profession.
“We teach EMT basic, advanced, and paramedic,” Nason said. “Paramedic is the top of the food chain, pre-hospital. They have the most training, skills, and capacity to do medical work. To us, we’re all ambulance drivers. We’re EMTs or paramedics, the two are not the same.”
It’s common for people to think of EMTs and paramedics as interchangeable term – they’re not.
“EMTs have 16 hours of training,” Powell said. “Advanced is about 30 hours. Paramedics take hundreds of hours.”
The ENMU-R catalog shows paramedic training requirements of 200 clock-hours of curriculum, and 200 clock-hours of practicum and laboratory instruction. The skill difference can mean life or death. “If you don’t have a paramedic,” Nason said, “you can’t provide advanced life support, so you have significantly limited capacity to save lives.”
Nason started as a volunteer. “I started out in the Sierra Volunteer Fire Department 27 years ago,” she said. “Then I went to a paid department, for the ambulance service. I worked there for many years. I’m the director of Clinical Education at ENMU-R. I’m EMS chief for Midway and a paramedic for Midway and Dexter.”
Stacie, like her peers, can’t talk about what she’s done for long without talking about the work they all do. That’s partly humility common to a life of service, and partly because they all work as a team. “We do quite a bit of community outreach stuff,” she continued. “We teach CPR classes. We sponsor early college medical education …We do continuing education … We pride ourselves on having a good public face …We do Santa Claus. Everybody gets involved.”
The holiday season is when they get the most joy in their work. “One of the best things I’ve ever done in my whole career as a paramedic,” Ray said, “had nothing to do with taking care of a sick person. We had a program called ‘Home for the Holidays.’ We’d pick up grandma or grandpa at the nursing home and take them to their family for Christmas or other holidays, and then we’d take them back that night. It was a free service and it gave us a warm fuzzy feeling. There aren’t a lot of warm fuzzies in EMS.”
“Justin’s mom and I picked up an old-old man to take him home for Thanksgiving. He had been married to his wife for 60 years. Later we picked him up and took him back to the nursing home. It was clear he was going to die soon of TMB (Too Many Birthdays). We went back to the station with tears in our eyes. It was sad but it was good.”
It’s common for first responders to be second, third or more generations into a family tradition of service. Powell was born into the world of paramedics. “I grew up doing this,” Powell said. “I was going on calls when I was a foot and a half tall. My grandpa started a department in the Southwest part of the county in 1952 so I was going on calls practically from when I was born. My mom was a paramedic with Rodney Ray and I used to ride along with her. I moved to Dexter in 1997. Stacie Nason was my instructor when I got my license.” Powell has been chairman of the Every 15 Minutes program, which gives teens a close-up and emotionally intense education about drinking and driving. He’s also serves on the Dexter city council.
Davis was proud of his town last March when a tornado came through and the local response was phenomenal. “The town came together and cleaned it up in two days,” he said. “I got a message from a 4-H club in Eddy County who wanted to send us money for that relief fund. I told them no because we had things taken care of – We have supplies …We had a ton of clothes and toiletries. I told them to find needy kids in their area and buy them Christmas presents.”
The Rural Component
Having a bunch of small, separate, often volunteer first-responder services in rural towns calls for a strong connection and cooperation. “All the departments in the area work well together,” Nason said. “All of the departments are short-handed on medically qualified people. If you don’t have two people who can run a call, the ambulance can’t go.”
“We’re geared more toward rural EMS than urban stuff,” Ray said. “A paramedic who works in Albuquerque trying to work out here wouldn’t know what to do after fifteen minutes, because that’s their average response time. But if one of us tried to work up there we’d be saying, ‘Slow down! I have stuff to do.’ because we’re used to 45-minute calls.”
“All of us come from a rural background,” Powell said. “We all work in systems where 45 minute to hour transports are common. So learning to interact with patients and having that compassion fosters the service mindset that we have.”
That extra time has them building strong relationships and strong reputations throughout the local communities. “I think most of us have a common goal,” Powell said. “We want to have the best outcome for the patient. Our goal is to make that patient comfortable and better because we helped them. We’re privileged to have a good half hour with them, so we can help them get calm and respond to care better. “
“In the curriculum, you’ll never find anything written about compassion, but we instill it in every level. Without it, a first-responder would burn out.”
“I’ve walked into people’s homes who don’t know anything about me,” Nason said, “but because of what I do they relax, trust me and let me do my job. I truly believe in the saying that my grandma taught me. She said, ‘People won’t remember what you did. But they will remember how you made them feel.’ I see that a lot in my work.”
Volunteers and Professionals
In April the governor signed a law recognizing that PTSD can be a part of the firefighter’s experience. While it’s a step in the right direction, the protections it offers are not to be applied to volunteer firefighters. As most first-responders seek every opportunity to serve their communities, that distinction is troubling for them. “There is a difference in attitude about volunteers and paid professionals,” Stacie said. “The difference, in reality, is when you do this for pay, you do your 96 hours and then you’re off. No calls. When you’re a volunteer, you’re on 24/7. People say, ‘You can turn off your phone.’ No, we can’t. It’s not in us. Making a mark, making a difference in somebody’s life is what it’s all about.”
“Public service is what it’s all about,” Ray said. “Paid, volunteer, it’s all necessary.”
Their dedication extends, naturally, to teaching and helping young people find the capacity to serve within themselves. Many they bring into service started on very different paths.
“We run calls to the hospital,” Powell said. “Our students from the college will see us and be surprised that we actually work in the field too. I tell the New Mexico Youth ChalleNGe students I have that I need to know a little bit about them. I need to know where they’re from, ‘something about you and why you’re here. Don’t tell me it’s voluntary because I know better.’ Some of the reasons they’ve been there blow me away.”
“I made the class cry last night, which they deserved. I was mad at them. Furlough’s coming, they’re going home for the holiday and some of them were saying when they got home they were going to get drunk and party with all their old friends. I just sat there quietly. They know when I’m quiet they’d best shut their mouths.”
“I told them, ‘I’m mad because of what you guys have been saying. You’ve been here for four months now. You’ve done without the drugs and the alcohol and look how far you’ve come. Now you’re talking about going back and doing all that again, and not coming back to finish the last month and a half. They change. They know. They can read me as well as I can read them. I’ve learned stuff working with those kids. I love them.”
“One of my favorite jobs,” Nason said, “was dual enrollment for high-risk high school students. You wonder sometimes how someone that young could have gone through what they’ve been through. I had a kid come in, sit down and say, ‘Three things. I hate this school. I hate this class. And I hate you.’ and I said, ‘Alright. Duly noted. By the end of the semester, I’ll have changed one of those. I’m not sure which one, but I’ll have changed one.’”
“He said he only went through my class because he had to make up credits. My class was worth more credits than any of the others, but he was not going to learn anything. At the end of the semester, he was still surly. I told him, ‘You have a gift for this. You’re smart. Whether or not you want to do it, you are good at it.’” The young man’s response was short, crude, angry and shut down the conversation.
“Nine years later,” Nason continued, “he showed up and sat down in my office, set down a ChalleNGe coin and said, ‘Because of you, I didn’t kill myself. You’re the only one that ever believed in me. I had a gun in my car. Daily, I thought about using it. Daily, I went to your class and you were nice. You believed in me. My parents didn’t believe in me.’ I asked him, ‘Which one of those three things did I change? Do you like me, the class or the school?’ and he said, ‘Maybe you.’ He apologized.”
That young man is an international fire-fighter now.
An old adage states that “Those who can’t do, teach.” It couldn’t be less accurate in this program. “Everybody associates everything we do, back to the college,” Powell said. “That’s good because it brings students here.”
Davis, Powell, and Nason all agree that Ray is a legend at the school. Ray, like his peers, isn’t quite comfortable with acknowledgment.
“This school and the EMS program have always been good,” Ray said. “For the most part, it’s always been a tight group. I look at the changes in curriculum and the program always made the best first responders we could make. We don’t just serve Roswell. It’s all of Southeastern New Mexico and wherever else we can serve.”
Ray has been doing this work for more than 35 years. “I’ve been an EMS since 1983,” he said. “I’ve been a paramedic since 1984. I went to Texas for a while, and came back to Roswell and worked with whoever owned the ambulance at the time. I did volunteer fire fighting. Then I worked the Chaves County Casa Program. I worked with the Office of the Medical Investigator.”
“I came out and helped as an adjunct with another instructor. When she left they called and asked me if I’d take a teaching job. I’ve been full-time here since 1991. I’ve taught at all levels. I’m not a good basic instructor. I’m not a real good intermediate or advanced instructor. I’m an OK paramedic instructor. By the time I get students in my class, they know why they’re there. I hate it when someone takes the classes to get a promotion at work. If you’re going to be a paramedic, be a paramedic.”
“One of the advantages to our program is it’s personalized. We know who you are. We know where you work. We know your boss. We won’t hesitate to call your boss if necessary. We don’t want you to fail. We want you to succeed, but we’re demanding.”
Even with the decades of service EMTs have dedicated to our community, there is still a struggle to have it known as a legitimate profession. The students are made to understand how important professionalism is, in every detail. “They have to be in uniform,” Nason said. “They have to be on a specific schedule with their badge and picture ID visible or they aren’t allowed to be in clinicals. Otherwise, they can be mistaken for a provider and that’s not appropriate. Appearance and professionalism go hand-in-hand. EMS has struggled to be a profession for its entire existence. I’m tough on my students. I make them look professional.”
Nason wants to see greater diversity in the field. She believes there’s a bigger place for women.
“I want to encourage more women to be in the profession,” she said. “When I started women were still in the minority. I come from a long line of nurses. When I started there were four other female paramedics in Chaves County. I was 21, the other paramedic I worked with was 23. She said, ‘Do you realize we’re the only paramedics for roughly 50,000 people?’ We just stared at each other thinking ‘Wow. What could go wrong with that?’ Now the Roswell Fire Department has paramedics and things are much better.”
Stacie does not want to see safety or capability compromised to make room for more women, however. She maintains that women can do the work. “There have been changes to the physical requirements to get women better qualified,” she said. “But it’s important that anybody who does the work should be able to handle the physical requirements.”
“Some of the attitudes are that it’s still a boy’s field and that turns a lot of women off. I’ve had people tell me, ‘You’re a really good paramedic, and you’re a good firefighter. But you have no business being a chief because you’re a girl.’ It’s not about what you are, it’s about what you can do. It’s not only your life that matters, it’s the lives of the people we respond to every day.”
Powell summed up the zeitgeist of the room nicely. “EMS is public servants that do medicine,” he said. “First and foremost, it’s about service to the community.”
Story originally published in Focus on Carlsbad 2019: Summer Edition.