They literally carry lives in their hands, they tirelessly work to alleviate the suffering of others and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) are out there every single day, literally just a phone call away for anyone who needs them.
The Amery Ambulance Service has a long-standing history of being a positive influence in the city and providing high quality emergency response and patient care. Since their founding in 1950, the Amery Area EMS has been playing a very active role in the community by offering services that make a real difference in people’s lives.
Before 1950, there was no ambulance service in Amery. According to the Amery Centennial publication of 1987, the doctors often provided transportation for patients, and in a real emergency the hearse from the funeral home would be used. In 1950, Bob Williamson returned to Amery to work for the Stenberg Furniture and Funeral Service. He started the first organized ambulance service using a wooden bodied Plymouth station wagon. In 1966 the ambulance service administration was turned over to the City of Amery.
Today the Amery Area Ambulance Service has eight full-time employees, six Paramedics and two Advanced Emergency Medical Technicians (AEMTs). They also employ 24 Part-time personnel, seven Paramedics, seven AEMTs and nine Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs).
Nicole Gullickson is the EMS Manager in Amery. She started as an Explorer in High School. “I was able to ride with the ambulance on calls to observe. I was able to sit in when they had monthly trainings. We took field trips to a cadaver lab once in Duluth, MN, after touring a college and hospital there. I remember being really nervous. That experience, along with my ride alongs on the ambulance started my love for EMS. I really wanted to be a 911 dispatcher, however once I experienced EMS, I realized there was no way I could be on that side of the phone call, I loved physically helping people,” said Gullickson.
She graduated Amery High School in 1997, immediately took the EMT class and started working for Amery Ambulance. In 1998, Gullickson completed the AEMT class. In December 2018, she completed the paramedic program. She began her role as the EMS Manager in 2004.
“When I started in 1997, Amery Ambulance had two ambulances. We kept one at the old Amery Hospital in the garage located by the Wound Healing Center entrance, off County Road F. We kept the other ambulance at the old Fire Hall, then located where the big parking lot is behind the Farm Table.
“We only staffed one ambulance at that time with volunteers. If you didn’t live in town and needed a place to stay, we had an office/sleeping room in the basement of the hospital.
“In 2000, we built the current ambulance garage. This building started out with the garage and an apartment with two bedrooms and the office. In 2011, we added on a training room and four more bedrooms. We starting hiring RN’s through Amery Hospital in 2008, so we could take higher-level Interfacility transfers.
“At the AEMT level we could not properly serve Amery Hospital because most often they needed a higher-level care to transport Patients to another hospital for advanced care. At that time our 911 service was not busy enough to support us moving to the paramedic level, so our partnership with Amery Hospital allowed us to serve our community in a much more cost-effective way.
“At that same time, we also obtained our third ambulance and set up one of the ambulances specifically for these advanced interfacility transports,” Gullickson said.
She said the service is averaging about 1350 calls per year. Approximately 400 of the calls are interfacility transfers. The remaining are 911 calls.
In 2012, they transitioned from a volunteer to a paid service. “Our service has made a lot of changes throughout the years. If someone would have told me moving from a volunteer service to a paid service was going to be the most challenging change our service would encounter, I would have laughed in his or her face. This change proved to be the most challenging of all changes. Historically EMS serve because they care, there is pride, they generally love what they do. However, moving from volunteer to paid, changed everything. Now it was considered a job. Expectations of staff grew,” said Gullickson.
When speaking about an average day is like at the ambulance garage, Gullickson said, “When employees starts their shift, they check one of the ambulances. They make sure all the equipment is in working order. They ensure that lights work, equipment is charging, items were restocked from previous call and everything is clean. Everyone also has one cleaning job to complete.
“Once that is finished, part-time personnel are able to do whatever they want (sleep, watch TV, read, etc.). Full-time employees have projects, sometimes extra cleaning or stocking needs to be done in between the normal routine, lawn mowing, etc. There are days little time is spent at the station because of 911 calls or interfacility transfers. At night the staff each have their own bedroom and as long as there are no calls they are permitted to sleep.”
She shared the biggest challenge they are facing is an increase in suicide rates among EMS personnel. EMS personnel are known for taking care of everyone else before themselves. This makes it really hard for EMS staff to take care of not only their physical health, but also their mental health. Gullickson said, “Some of the things we (not only EMS, but Police and Fire too) see and deal with, do cause nightmares. Since we are all really good at using humor to deal with things and keeping things confidential, these emotions get stuffed away.”
She said another big challenge is trying to make a career out of EMS. “Until society figures out that EMS is an essential service and finds stable funding, this will continue to be a challenge.
“Ambulance services are closing nationwide due to low Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, Municipalities are finding themselves with limited budgets and not wanting to support EMS Services. Having little to no funding makes it difficult to pay EMS providers truly what they are worth,” said Gullickson.
Currently, Amery Area AMS has an employee that has been working with the service for 46 years, Rick Van Blaricom. Gullickson said, “We are seeing an increase of our veteran staff starting to leave the industry. They are a wealth of knowledge and talent. While it makes me sad to see them go, on the other hand, I am a little jealous.
“I don’t think people outside the industry realize the physical and emotional toll EMS take on, as does their family. I can speak for my family and we have MANY missed holidays, school functions, canceled vacations, times when mom or dad need alone time and times when we need extra hugs. Unfortunately, children don’t understand all of this, it has an impact on them all.”
Gullickson’s husband, Dan, is one of three long time Amery Area EMS employees that are retiring along with Mike Dau and Heather Granica. Dan has been in the field for 20 years, 10 in Milltown and 10 in Amery. He has enjoyed giving back to the community and meeting so many new people.
Dau is retiring after 30 years of being an EMT in Milltown and Amery. Dau said he is going to miss the camaraderie with his fellow EMTs.
Granica is retiring after 19 years. She shared a story about a night on the job that left an impact on her. “This night started with a relatively minor call with no issues. We just got back to the station and were paged to a motorcycle versus deer accident north of Amery between 11 p.m. and midnight.
“When we arrived the driver was up and walking around but immediately started showing signs of shock and his status went critical, he had severe internal injuries. With the help of first responders we quickly got him into the ambulance, stabilized and transported to Amery ER.
“This patient was transported to Regions via helicopter and underwent many surgeries to repair his injuries and thankfully survived. We were still in the ER finishing up paperwork from this patient and we received another page for a mom in labor. As we left, we jokingly told the ER staff that we were going to deliver a baby.
“We arrived at the residence and she was definitely in labor. We again, with the help of first responders assessed the patient and quickly headed to Westfields Hospital in New Richmond where she doctored. We made it as far as the outer limits of New Richmond and the baby decided it wasn’t waiting any longer.
“We pulled over and with only my partner and myself in the back of the ambulance we delivered the baby while at the same time caring for the mother and reassuring her and father that everything was fine.
“Thankfully baby was delivered with no complications and once evaluated we continued to the hospital with happy family.
“The reason this specific night still sticks with me is because with all the trauma and excitement that occurred, it happened and was over within a few hours timeframe.
“I drove home, crawled into bed around 2 or 3 in the morning and was lying there thinking about all I had just encountered and in a few short hours I would be at work going about my normal daily routine as if nothing happened.
“Unless you’re either the emergency personnel or the one with the emergency, there are few people who experience what occurs at night when everyone else is sleeping.”