As much as our culture is notable for its use of wireless and advanced technologies, we’re still a society shaped by old-fashioned principles. Take, for example, what would happen were you in need of emergency help for a loved one having a cardiac problem.
You use your cell phone to dial 911. The dispatcher radios the rescue squad for an ambulance. Emergency responders, once they arrive, connect your loved one to a heart monitor (a Phillips HeartStart MRx with built-in AED and pulse oximeter).
On the way to the hospital, the rescue squad links the heart monitor to a laptop. With the help of a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot, they send a report of the patient’s heart activity to the hospital.
Thanks to all this modern, and wireless technology, the hospital’s team of professionals will know, before your loved one arrives, something about the condition of his or her heart. But they are only able to know that because the members of the rescue squad are, by and large, volunteers. Old-fashioned manpower with heart.
The Christiansburg Rescue Squad is staffed by about 100 Emergency Medical Technicians and EMTs-in-training and just three people on salary. They work mostly 12-hour shifts, providing 24-7 emergency coverage for what amounts to about half of Montgomery County. The rest of the county is covered by volunteer rescue squads in Blacksburg, Riner, Shawsville and Long Shop-McCoy. The Christiansburg Squad also covers Interstate 81 between mile markers 105 and 130, more than 100 lane miles of Interstate.
“The reason we have so many volunteers,” says Luke Price, the squad’s newly installed First Lieutenant and Supply Officer, “is a passion thing. It’s hard, but also rewarding. It’s what you like to do and want to do.”
The Rescue Squad has a pool of vehicles to respond to the 4,000 or so emergency calls received every year. There’s a boat for the swift water and dive teams, a Polaris six-wheel personnel carrier to get to locations inaccessible to ambulances (such as some sections of the Huckleberry Trail), and rescue trucks with extrication tools for car crashes.
The big rescue truck is known throughout the community as the Screaming Demon, a name which refers to the sound of the truck’s sirens and the Christiansburg High School mascot. But ambulances are what the squad uses most.
The Christiansburg Rescue Squad has five ambulances capable of providing advanced life support. One is a converted Ford Van (nicknamed the Vambulance), the other four are modified Ford F450 XLT Super Duty trucks.
“There’s basically a box on the back of the trucks,” Price says. Each one is kitted with identical stores of equipment – bandages, fluids, oxygen, onboard suction and much more. The squad rotates its use of ambulances so as not to overuse any one particular vehicle. In between calls, the ambulances typically stay ready in the rescue squad building on Depot Street next to the Fire Department. At headquarters, a power cord (referred to as a shoreline) connects to each ambulance, powering the ambulance’s electrical system and devices. When an ambulance leaves on a call, batteries and an on-board inverter power the equipment, including an IV warmer and an IV cooler. “It’s like a mini-fridge,” he adds.
Under the hood, you’ll find a V8 6.0 Powerstroke Turbo Diesel engine ~ horsepower with purpose. All the truck ambulances are 4-wheel drive, and carry snow chains. “It’s handy during snow,” Price explains.
Up front, there is a console with switches to operate the lights and sirens. There are also radio receivers to handle communication with dispatch and other emergency services in the county, along with GPS capabilities.
The ambulance requires a team of at least two members to operate. On the outbound portion of a call, one person is the driver, and the other one rides up front and handles radio communication and sirens. Other members of the team, when present, ride in the back, on a bench or seat. Seatbelts are available for all seating in the ambulance. “There’s added suspension for stability,” Price states, “but it’s still like riding down the road in the back of a pickup truck, with a roof and two walls.”
When a call comes, the rescue squad drops everything and responds. “There’s been a lot of dinners been left behind and a lot of sacrificing of food and family to help others. But it’s part of the passion and a pride for what we do,” he adds.
“When a grandson looks up and thanks you for saving his grandma . . . ” That’s the kind of wireless message recognizable in any place or time.
By Karl Kazaks
Photos by Shanen Photography