Before incidents like the massacre at Columbine High School, police weren’t qualified to be emergency medical technicians, and EMTs didn’t carry guns.
But as the world changes, so do the operations of first responders who, at times, have to expect the unimaginable.
The Sauk Prairie Police Department and Ambulance Service are at the forefront of a contemporary collaboration, known as emergency tactical care support, or TEMS.
Sauk Prairie Ambulance Service has three EMS technicians trained in TEMS: Dean Darling, Matt Robison and Kirk Sprecher.
“Along with the police department, we’ve been trained in what’s known as the ‘warm zone,’ meaning once the incident has been stabilized by police, people that are part of the rescue task force are escorted by armed officers so we can start triage and treatment,” Sauk Prairie Ambulance Service director Kevin Weber said.
Sauk Prairie Police Chief Jerry Strunz said TEMS is trained to work directly with police in areas where EMS crews weren’t in years past.
“They are trained to a higher level and have more equipment than a standard EMT would have,” Strunz said. “They have ballistic equipment and are trained in combat casualty care for gun shot and severe trauma.”
Strunz was an EMS volunteer in Orfordville before joining the Sauk Prairie Police Department 25 years ago.
“When I first started here as a police officer, it wasn’t highly recommended by the administration or made a priority to respond to EMS calls,” Strunz said. “Now all officers respond to EMS calls. It’s our policy to respond to medical emergencies as long as an officer isn’t on a call that’s a higher priority.
Bob Kelter has been with the Sauk Prairie Ambulance Service for more than 25 years. He said the changes in EMS and police collaboration are welcome.
“Many EMS situations are highly charged and have the potential to escalate,” Kelter said. “There is a level of trust and a capacity for discerning when police should be more or less present. That’s very intuitive in my experience. An officer won’t leave the scene without confirming that the EMTs are confidently in control.”
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Bill Richards, a 33-year veteran on the Sauk Prairie Police force, said officers receive more first aid training than ever before, despite the fact that in the past, police were tasked with transporting patients.
“When I was a kid, the cops were the only ambulance,” Richards said. “Now they’re trained much better and they have much more equipment to carry with them. Everybody here is trained in CPR and wound dressing. We’re able to keep traction and watch for neck injuries.”
Weber said EMS crews rely on police for all types of incidents because police frequently arrive at the scene of an EMS call first.
“It happens almost on a daily basis,” Weber said. “Most of the time, an officer will respond to an ambulance call, and they’re on scene before we are and can give us information about what we’re coming into.”
This year, Sauk Prairie police were trained in the use of Narcan, a drug that counteracts the effects of a heroin overdose. Officers now carry the drug in their squad cars and are trained in administering the dose.
Gov. Scott Walker signed Act 200 in April 2014 that allowed all levels of EMS technicians and police and fire departments to carry Narcan.
Sauk Prairie EMS technicians have used Narcan for the last two years.
“We already know Narcan does save lives,” Weber said. “We’ve used it enough here in Sauk Prairie.”
Weber said the closer collaboration between police and EMS has proven valuable.
“Our training with the police in TEMS and warm zone response has built a special bond between the two departments.” Weber said. “There is a mutual trust that they will put their life on the line to protect us and we will put our lives on the line to save them. There is not a single officer on the Sauk Prairie Police Department that I would not trust my life to.”