New Rockford, ND

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A Day in the Life of an Ambulance Member: Interview with Nathan Presnell

May 20th, 2013
– This interview with Community Ambulance Service EMT Nathan Presnell is the third segment of a six-part series about the Ambulance and its role in the community. The interview was conducted by Jessica Dillon of the New Rockford Area Betterment Corporation.

Jessica Dillon: Tell us a little about yourself, and about your roles on the Ambulance squad.
Nathan Presnell: I’ve been on the squad for thirteen years, and am currently an EMT, secretary of the board, and I provide training in CPR and First Aid for the entire county. I also have a full-time day job as the owner of Just 4 Kidz Childcare, I sit on a number of state and local boards, and am a full-time dad and foster parent.

JD: So you are definitely an engaged and busy person. What is your schedule like when you’re on call with the ambulance?
NP: My regular, permanent schedule with the ambulance is 120 hours per month, plus frequent fill-in shifts for other members. The shifts are 6-6, sometimes days, sometimes nights, and with fill-ins, I might be on call all day from Friday evening through Monday morning, straight through.

JD: What does being on-call mean for a member?
NP: Basically, you wear your pager constantly, can’t leave town or drink alcohol, and have to be ready to drop whatever you’re doing and run when the call comes in. For my family, that also means making sure someone is available to watch my kids. For my work, it means having sufficient staff on that I can leave when I need to. Fortunately, my family and staff are all really supportive, so I’m able to go at moment’s notice without having to worry about it. Many businesses in town will also let their employees go on ambulance runs during work, so they’re effectively donating their staff time, as well. They know how important it is for the members and EMTs to be available.

JD: How does your family handle your commitment to the ambulance?
NP: They’re incredible. They are all so supportive. My oldest son is 12, so they’ve never known a time when I wasn’t on the ambulance, and my youngest has already decided that he’s going to become an EMT, too. He’s counting down the years. I mean, he’s nine, and he’s watched the CPR class so many times he could teach it. But it’s my wife, Faith, who gets the brunt of it. If I’m on call, she’s on call, because someone has to be available to watch the kids. They know now that when dad’s on call, I can’t leave town for the weekend, or go to watch an away T-ball game. It can be very frustrating, but they understand.

JD: What are night shifts like?
NP: You don’t get a good sleep, even if there isn’t a run. Just knowing you’re on call can keep you awake. Then if a call does come in, you’re looking at a 2 hour average run to Carrington or 3-4 hour average run to Devils Lake, so the next morning you stagger in to work on a few hours of sleep. For some reason, I prefer night shifts, but that’s pretty unusual.

JD: What about wintertime calls?
NP: They are so stressful. My biggest fear is getting stuck on the way to the ambulance hall. The ambulances are pretty heavy vehicles, so they don’t get stuck very often, but it has happened. Fortunately, the city or county will usually plow us a route to the hospital if needed. But yeah, it’s a major added stress.

JD: How do you and the rest of the squad handle the emotional pull of dealing with injuries and death, especially since, in a small town like ours, you are likely to know all the patients you deal with?
NP: You never really get accustomed to seeing injuries. And the younger the patient is, the harder it is to deal with. But you don’t really think about it until after the call. You’re in EMT mode. Once you’re back in the ambulance hall, it hits you. But we have a strong support system in our squad, with clergy on board who can help with crisis debriefing and a tight-knit family of members. We get through it together. In some ways, it helps to know the people we serve, because you have that connection with them already.

JD: Why do you do what you do? And, is it worth it?
NP: It is absolutely worth it. After you’ve taken care of someone, maybe even saved someone’s life, and they come up and thank you, or you even just see them walking by one day, you know it’s worth the sacrifices you make. Even with the most difficult calls, would I change it? No. This is a service that absolutely must continue. We don’t even want to imagine life without a local ambulance service, where you might have to wait an hour or more for help to arrive. We, the community, have to keep making this a priority and providing it for ourselves.

JD: Last question. How can the community make it easier for you, for the squad, to keep providing this critical, valuable service?
NP: More EMTs would help immensely. More people to cover the pagers would reduce the total number of on-call hours for each of us, so we could spend more time with our families, and less time away from home and work. We have another EMT class opening in September, and we are really hoping to see another great class graduate into our family.

This series exploring the Community Ambulance Service of New Rockford will run each month and will provide a closer look inside the history and importance of the organization. The series will continue next month with “Our Ambulance: My Story”.

If you are interested in volunteering with the Ambulance, contact Sandy O’Connor at (701) 947-2989 or (701) 302-0499. The next EMT Certification course will open in September.


This site maintained by the New Rockford Area Betterment Corporation.