EMS celebrates 50th birthday

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by Marissa Lorenz
Grand County Emergency Medical Service (GCEMS) will celebrate its 50th anniversary this Saturday with a free community barbecue in Granby.

An ambulance transport was first established in Grand County in January, 1970, under the auspices of the Grand County Sheriff’s Office. Native rancher Ida Sheriff was trained as the first EMT and she tells stories of driving patients over Berthoud Pass in a Cadillac hearse. Two Cadillacs made up the fleet at that time, and they worked out of
a small room of the courthouse.

A dedicated group of volunteers and staff, including long-time residents Ilene Heeney of Kremmling and JoAnne Anderson of Granby, continued to build the service in the following years, working towards the highest quality care. In 1974, Grand County Ambulance was established as its own department. In the 1980s, EMT-intermediates were added to staff and certified paramedics boosted capability in the following decade.

The agency would continue to grow, in both size and skill, becoming a “full-time paid EMS department in 2001.” In 2003, a
mill levy was passed by Grand County citizens in support of the first-response and transportation services provided by the department.

Today, Grand County EMS has grown to employ 19 full-time Paramedics, an Intermediate, and
16 full-time EMTs, backed up by three part-time Paramedics, two Intermediates, and four EMTS. It boasts a fleet of nine fully-equipped modern ambulances with four to six ambulances staffed on a normal basis and the balance available to staff up in an emergency situation or busy circumstances. Quick Response Units are also used to support the response model.

State-of-the-art lifesaving equipment such as LifePak 15 cardiac monitors, I-Stat lab testing, IV pumps, and portable ventilators are available at all times.

Paramedic-EMT teams are ready to respond onsite to emergencies at any time and to any location in the county. They provide basic and advanced life support services and critical-care paramedic treatment, out-of-county emergency transport, public education, and community healthcare services.

A Mountain Medical Response Team provides emergency patient care and transport for backcountry emergency situations, where traditional access is not possible. They assist Grand County Search and Rescue and are specially trained in such areas as avalanche awareness, land navigation, firearms awareness, OHV operations, wildland firefighting, HAZMAT response, and more.

Call volume continues to grow with the community, averaging a 7.5% to 10% annual increase in recent years. In 2019, GCEMS responded to 2,608 calls, 62% of which resulted in a transport. They served patients from Grand County (50%), Colorado (23%), out of state (26%), and out of the country (1%). They were awarded 2019 Med Evac Agency of the Year.
Continuing education and training is required for all staff, ensuring the most highly-skilled pre-hospital care the County can provide. Education is provided to the community through adult EMT training, and community CPR and First Aid classes, and other community awareness events. The service has even expanded into the high schools, offering EMT classes to students of West Grand and Middle Park and providing “high school seniors with job-ready skills.”

Moving into the next half of a century, the department faces both new and old challenges, such as COVID19 and budgeting concerns. GCEMS Deputy Chief Allen Pulliam observes, “It is becoming more challenging balancing paramedic shortages, competitive industry salaries, with these increasing call volumes, but Grand County EMS Command Staff is being innovative in meeting the needs of Grand County residents and visitors to the county.”

Grand County EMS will continue to adapt and grow, fulfilling their mission to offer “professional care with a personal touch.”
For more information, go to co.grand.co.us/167/Emergency-Medical-Services or call 970-887-2732. Residents can recognize and celebrate with GCEMS on Saturday, July 18, from 11:00am to 4:00pm at Kaibab Park in Granby. Hamburgers and hot dogs will be served. Games and fun activities will be hosted, including the opportunity to touch a sanitized truck and helicopter. Please bring your own chairs and blankets and respect all social-distancing suggestions.