Matters of life and death

Emergency medical crews see tragedy, try to forget

Tom Soos entered an internship program with the emergency medical service while he was still in high school. Nearly 30 years later, he is the director of The Memorial Hospital's emergency medical services and still loves what he does.

"Ever since I can remember, it's what I've always done," he said.

Now, he and 24 technicians run an office that responded to more than 800 calls in January through October. Soos said it's an all-consuming job.

"There's no time off," he said. "For people requiring services, we're always here 24 hours a day."

The Memorial Hospital funds Craig's emergency medical services. The crew covers an area roughly one-third the size of Moffat County.

The crews also assist in other places when needed.

The service boasts three ambulances and is the only advanced life support crew in the county -- technicians may administer cardiac drugs and lead pain control and management. Soos said his crew provides the same services as an emergency room staff, just quicker.

A big part of the EMS crews' jobs is attending community events.

They stand by in case they need to provide medical care to athletes and festival-goers at events that range from soccer games to Grand Olde West Days to bullfighting camps.

"In case something happens, we're there to take care of it," Soos said.

Crews also transport patients to Denver and Grand Junction hospitals as needed. The crews have made 24 trips this year.

"Part of our mission is getting the patient to the right hospital," Soos said.

Accomplishing their mission requires working well with one another and finding the best way to care for a patient.

"It's different personalities and different perspectives," Paramedic Richard Nichols said. "Everyone has their expertise on different subjects. It's a good mix."

EMS crews face challenges in their jobs, particularly in such a tight-knit community, where they may know their patients.

Soos worked in New Jersey for 19 years and never once treated a patient he knew. Coming to Craig was a different story.

Here, many of the EMS crews have relatives in town, so they are required to care for friends and family members.

"It's hard to just do your job because you're dealing with people you know or are related to," Soos said. "It's hard to perform your job because it is personal."

In even smaller towns, such as Dinosaur and Maybell, EMS crews are more likely to treat their neighbors and relatives.

"We know everyone here, and that's difficult, especially if it's something traumatic," Dinosaur EMS captain Debbie Morrill said.

Plus, EMS technicians never know what to expect when approaching a scene. They are never quite sure how a patient will respond to treatments.

"There is no way of knowing ahead of time how someone will react until they get into the situation," Soos said. "You just have to do the best you can do for the patient."

Nichols said he likes his job because every call is different, making his career challenging and rewarding.

He remembers a call, parts of which he now finds humorous. A boy was looking to see if a handgun was loaded and accidentally shot himself in the leg, and Nichols responded to the call.

"I asked him if he found out his answer," Nichols said.

But he still struggles with seeing gruesome scenes. Soos said technicians need to do their job and try and leave the images of an accident, fire or assault at the scene, not in their memory.

"To be able to survive in this business, things can never really stick with you," Soos said. "If you're the personality type where stuff sticks with you, you'll burn out really quickly."

Nichols said the hardest calls to respond to are ones involving children. The worst scene he recalls is a fatal car accident involving a 2-year-old near Baggs, Wyo.

"They're the ones that stand out for the longest period of time," Soos said.

Nichols struggles not to get emotionally attached to calls and so far has not been haunted by memories of them.

"You think about it every now and then," he said. "But I haven't had the nightmares yet."

Michelle Perry can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 209, or mperry@craigdailypress.com.

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