Mar-Mac Rescue Squad seeks additional volunteers

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Members of the Mar-Mac Rescue Squad include (front, left to right) Liz Gilman, Kayla Thompson, Samantha Kohls, Mike Gilman; (middle) Ember Martin, Sarah Ferrel, Dana Ferguson, Dale Reinhart; (back) Burt Walters, Ryan Bacon, Tyler Thornton, Dylan Rumph and Dillon Thompson. Not pictured are Dan Bickel, Jerry Thornton, Trampus Thornton, Justin Mezera, Briana Pazour and Nick Stavroplus. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

May 15-21 is National EMS Week, a time to honor the commitment of emergency responders. Locally, those emergency responders are volunteers, and at Mar-Mac Rescue Squad, they’re hoping to increase their numbers in order to sustain the service.

Founded in 1968, Mar-Mac Rescue Squad is the oldest ambulance service in Clayton County, said EMT Mike Gilman. Seventeen volunteers currently make up its roster. They respond to an average of 15 to 20 calls each month (162 last year), and are rarely unable to field a crew.

More volunteers, especially emergency medical technicians (EMTs), are needed, however, to lighten the load. Seventeen isn’t a large number, said EMT Samantha Kohls, when volunteers have to be available 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, including weekends and holidays, all while juggling full-time jobs and families.

“If we have a nice group of people, the same people don’t have to take every call,” she explained.

Mar-Mac’s crew is experienced, with many having served for 10 or more years. 

“The same people can’t do it forever, though,” Kohls added.

Mar-Mac is not the only ambulance service seeking more volunteers, said EMT Liz Gilman, noting that all small-town services need help in order to survive.

“We’re not paid. The money we get supports the service,” said EMT Dylan Rumph.

Without small-town services like Mar-Mac, community members would see a rise in costs.

“We’re able to keep charges and expenses down as a volunteer service,” explained Liz Gilman. “We don’t want it to get to that point. We enjoy doing this.”

As costs grow, so would wait times.

“You want to keep the small-town services alive because the next step is county-wide and waiting for service,” noted EMT Kayla Thompson.

Becoming an EMT offers a variety of rewards, most notably, said Kohls, helping community members in need and forming connections with patients. It’s especially touching, she explained, to help someone who was in rough shape and then see them up and walking around not long after.

Should an emergency arise, EMT training is also reassuring knowledge to have for both yourself and those around you, Kohls continued. In addition, it’s a good starting point if you’re interested in the medical field.

“We do some of the same work, but in the back of an ambulance,” she said. “It gives you a unique perspective.”

Rumph said, when joining an ambulance service, there are different levels of support, such as a driver, EMT or emergency medical responder (EMR), otherwise known as a first responder. While anything is helpful, he suggested, “You might as well be an EMT. It’s not that much more [training], and you can do so much more as an EMT.”

He described their duties as “most anything but pushing advanced medications or doing IVs.”

They also don’t intubate patients, Kohls added. Among their duties, though, are everything from checking airways and vitals to extrications and performing CPR.

“Our purpose is to help you get to advanced care in the safest way possible,” Liz Gilman said. “When you’re in need, we’re your advocate and get you where you need to go.”

Mike Gilman cautioned being an EMT isn’t as involved as, or even similar to, what many see on TV.

“It’s not like it is on TV,” he said. “That’s always a paramedic. We don’t do that.”

EMT certification involves 138 hours in the classroom, 40 hours in an ambulance and 24 hours in an emergency room, along with a test. Classes can be taken either online or in person. They are normally held through Northeast Iowa Community College, but other area communities offer them occasionally if instructors are available. 

If someone has even the slightest interest, Liz Gilman said they can test the waters before committing to the class.

“Ride with us, get to know the crew and see if you like it. Then you can see if you want to take the class,” she said. “You don’t have to sign your life away. It should be something you want to do and have a passion for, not something you dread.”

“This is a calling,” Thompson said, adding that having a sense of humor is key.

Having a compassionate nature is also important, Mike Gilman said.

Liz Gilman said Mar-Mac Rescue Squad pays for the course for those who are interested in joining their service. The rescue squad also provides regular training. After the initial training, EMTs are required to have 24 hours of training every two years in order to remain certified in Iowa. Those who are nationally registered, like Rumph and Kohls are, need 40 hours of training every two years.

Kohls said every new EMT is given a mentor to guide them through the experience. Members are also supportive of one another and often discuss the calls they make, she said. They don’t run on a set schedule, so members communicate with one another to determine who’s available at certain times and who is not. The service also works with the different individuals to see how they best fit into the mix.

“There are different needs on the service,” Kohls said. “There are places for everyone. Whatever skill you have is put to good use.” 

For example, Liz Gilman offers CPR training for community members, including several sessions this week. Kohls runs the Mar-Mac Rescue Squad Facebook page and handles PR.

“In the last few years, the service has done a lot more outreach and public relations,” Mike Gilman noted, citing Mar-Mac Rescue Squad’s participation in local parades, open houses and their social media presence. 

On Saturday, May 28, beginning at 11 a.m., the crew will be in McGregor’s Triangle Park during the Spring Arts and Crafts Festival, teaching hands-only CPR and doing blood pressure checks.

If you are interested in volunteering with the service, message the Mar-Mac Rescue Squad on Facebook or contact a member.

“It’s not hard to get started,” Kohls quipped. “We’re not scary.”

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