November 30, 2011

Answering the call

By Lauren Billing
Farmer Staff Writer

It is easy to see how quickly the face of McKenzie County is changing, especially when it affects many facets of daily living (traffic, housing, crime, etc.). The McKenzie County Ambulance Service knows all too well what all these changes mean - more calls.
The McKenzie County Ambulance Service works in with several area hospitals and fire departments. Whenever a call comes in to one of these agencies, the ambulance service is there too. On each call they have several well trained responders. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to make sure there are enough emergency personnel to cover all the calls.
But even with the large influx of calls Dan Kelly, Chief Executive Officer of McKenzie County Hospital, continues to be impressed by the caliber of work the ambulance service does. Kelly says, “We are immensely blessed to have the high caliber of ambulance personnel we do. Not only are they consummate professionals, but I am always amazed by their dedication.”
Kerry Krikava, head of the McKenzie County Ambulance Service, is one of those dedicated people. Krikava has been a paramedic for 27 years and has worked in a number of locations. Here in McKenzie County, Krikava and her team have really felt the increased volume of emergency calls. The number of calls they have been receiving has more than doubled in recent months.
“We go on about 50 to 60 calls a month, compared to about 20 calls a month in the past,” Krikava says, “One month we even had 97 calls.” Each day varies widely though. “We could have 10 calls a day, or nothing,” explains Krikava.
With winter on its way, bringing snow and ice, the emergency crews are expecting more road-related emergencies in the coming months.
But where there is a need, McKenzie County residents find a way to meet it and emergency response is no different. A new class of EMTs has begun training with the hope of receiving their certification in June.
The class includes 17 new trainees, though undergoing the training for such a certification is a challenging process. It requires many hours of studying over several months and lots of testing.
“It is a big commitment,” says Krikava. “And that’s just the beginning. Once they pass their tests they’ve got quite a bit more learning to do.”
There is a wide variety of individuals in the current class - a hairdresser, a diesel mechanic, and a stay-at-home mom, to name a few. The majority of them will be taking on emergency work as a part-time job. There are very few EMTs or paramedics in the county that work full time. Because of this, shifts and on-call schedules vary widely.
But despite the constantly changing work schedule and the day-to-day unknown on the number of calls, the new class is excited to engage in service to their community.
Teri Nicholson is one of the new students and says the classes are, “Intense. There is a lot of learning, and if you’ve never seen it or done it before, it can be overwhelming.” Nicholson and her family moved to Watford City two and a half years ago from Parachute, Colo., where she worked in a hospital. She was introduced to Krikava through mutual friend, Barbara Johnson, and immediately showed interest in working with the volunteer ambulance crew.
After having convinced her husband to join too, Nicholson and her husband, Greg Nicholson, began working as volunteers last February. While her husband drove, Nicholson became affectionately known as a ‘patter,’ one who would hold patients hands and tell them they were going to be alright. But with the beginning of a training course, both Nicholson and her husband realized they could do more and took on the challenge of becoming certified EMTs.
“It is an incredibly stimulating, rewarding job. At the same time it makes a huge impact and I have loved every minute of it,” says Nicholson.
With the rush of need it is great to see that there are McKenzie County community members answering the call.