By Karen Hutchinson-Talaski
While firemen and police are considered heroes, it is often the paramedics the people who care for those in accidents or hurt at home, at school or on the job who too often get overlooked.
And yet, paramedics are often the first medical teams at the scene of an accident, the first ones to administer aid to those who are injured, working to save the life of the injured party.
For the paramedics of the Hermiston Fire District, the willingness to help people is strong. The district covers 420 square miles from Stanfield and Echo to Bensel Road and the county line to Interstate 84 out to Powerline Road and the county line south towards Heppner. The 18 career and 33 volunteer paramedics, firemen and emergency medical technicians of the district answer the call for help.
"Helping people that is the answer," says Capt. Glen Phillips when asked why he became a paramedic.
Phillips started his career as a volunteer in Hermiston in 1989. Two years later, Phillips decided this was something he wanted to do as a career. Seventeen years later, he is still with the district, making captain in 2000.
"It is rewarding but it takes a specific person to do the job," he said. "Some people can't stand to see a finger cut. But no matter how bad it is, you know it can get better because you're there."
Like Phillips, Mark Johnson has been a paramedic for many years. He got his start 20 years ago in California, despite the fact he grew up in Hermiston. Johnson had always liked medicine his uncle was a doctor and went to college with medicine in mind.
Life took a different direction and he became a paramedic. The job, Johnson says, is rewarding.
"I would be lying if I didn't say it was an adrenaline rush," he said. "I do like helping people, just like everyone else would say."
Johnson says talking to people who he has known since he was a kid is interesting, although sometimes sad when he answers a call for someone he knows.
"I have had the privilege of meeting a lot of interesting people," he said. "It feels good when you actually make a difference."
Phillips also grew up in Hermiston. At least five others on staff grew up in Hermiston, which means the paramedics see a number of people they know. He says the bulk of the calls the paramedics answer are geriatric patients.
"Quite a few (of the calls) are to the assisted living (facilities)," Phillips said. "We get all different kinds of calls."
Being an EMT or paramedic is not for the faint of heart. Kids are the toughest ones to go to, however.
"The children are hard when they're hurt," Phillips said.
Working as a paramedic is not a solo act, says Johnson.
"It's a team effort," Johnson explained. "It takes a lot of us to do the job. We just happen to have a good team."
People don't become a paramedic or EMT overnight.
To become a basic EMT, a minimum of 140 hours of coursework, including completion of clinical work, mid-term and final examinations and final practical examinations are required. To become an intermediate EMT, 76 more hours of coursework and 44 hours of clinical skills are needed. A paramedic has to have at least an associate's degree plus other skills.
Although they are rarely thanked, Johnson says when he does get a thank you card or letter, he keeps them.
"Getting thank you notes or letters means a lot," Johnson said. "All of us here take pride in what we do."
And according to one Hermiston volunteer, David Tucker, the pride shows through and through.
Tucker, who has worked mainly in Southern Oregon as a fireman and emergency medical technician, believes Hermiston is a "darn good department."
"They're a fine department," Tucker said. "The people here are fantastic. Hermiston is very lucky every single person contributes to making Hermiston the great department it is."
Karen Hutchinson-Talaski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.