The Hope Public Schools Manufacturer of the Month for December doesn’t manufacture a product; but, without Pafford Emergency Medical Services, Hempstead County and a large chunk of the four-states region would be without a live-saving service.
That is the reality of the thinking behind the training and support services that go into the Pafford EMS business model and culture, Jennifer Revels, Pafford director of communications, and John Gray, Pafford Hempstead/Howard counties manager, explained to students in Kelly Muldrew’s Hope High School health class.
“Most people think the EMTs just put you in the back of an ambulance and drive as fast as they can to the hospital,” Gray noted.
But, inside each Pafford unit, its fixed wing air ambulance and its three helicopter units is an ambulatory emergency room.
“Back in the early days, they usually had funeral homes do the pick-up; and, in many cases people died because they didn’t have the training that could have saved lives,” Gray said.
However, as the result of a study in the 1960s, Arkansas began to implement changes in training and standards that saved more lives than were lost, he said.
“It’s a career that is changing every day,” Gray said.
Gray has 25 years of experience as a National Registered Emergency Medical Technician-Paramedic. He began in 1993 as a paramedic in Hempstead County until 2003, when he became owner/operator of Howard County Ambulance Service. He has been Howard County coroner since 2007, has served as president of the Arkansas Ambulance Association since 2015, and has been a member of the Governor’s Trauma Advisory Council since 2014.
Gray is a former Hempstead County deputy coroner; a former Hope Police Department reserve officer; and, was president of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce from 2013-2015. He has three children, Madison, 14; Hayden, 11; and Asher, six months old.
Revels directs day-to-day operations of the Pafford communication center, which processes calls for Arkansas, Oklahoma and Mississippi. She is certified by the International Academy of Emergency Medical Dispatch as an Emergency Medical Dispatcher, and is credentialed as an Emergency Tele-communicator, in Emergency Medical Dispatcher Quality Assurance, and as an Emergency Fire Dispatcher. Revels is also an American Heart Association Basic Life Support credentialed instructor in Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation and First Aid.
Revels said that once a telephone call is made to the Hempstead County 911 line, that call is routed to Pafford dispatch for medical services, while other information is routed to law enforcement.
She said the Pafford call center in Hope has 45 employees on duty to handle 911 response for seven counties in Arkansas. Revels said each call taker and dispatcher is nationally certified to handle the situation.
“It really is life or death,” she said.
As information is taken by the call taker, it is routed through dispatch to the unit closest to the scene. Patient information is fed directly to the unit on call, along with priority information whether to respond with lights only or lights and siren.
Revels said each Pafford crew has 90 seconds to get rolling.
That critical initial response is facilitated by having Pafford crews work as partner teams on the same shifts.
“You have to know each other; trust each other; because you work together to save lives,” Gray said.
And, each team member is responsible for being skilled in using all of the technology in any Pafford unit, whether air or ground.
Gray illustrated the point by explaining the sequence of a stroke.
“Before ten years ago, if you had a stroke, you went to a nursing home,” he said.
Now, with advances in medical technology and medications, Pafford EMTs can assess a stroke victim on the scene, receive medical instructions electronically, and administer medication that can reduce or eliminate the likelihood of permanent major damage from a stroke.
“Our assessment in the back of the ambulance helps us tell the neurologist what kind of stroke you’ve had,” Gray said. “That’s why, many times, people wonder why we’re still on the scene, and not moving; we’re treating the patient in the ambulance.”
He said that Pafford Paramedics and EMTs must be prepared to adapt to the situation.
“You don’t know if you have to administer an IV in an overturned car in a ditch in the middle of the night; so, you better know how to get it right,” Gray said.
He said that while he hasn’t actually delivered a baby on a call, he has been within minutes on several occasions. Revels, on the other hand, talked a caller through delivering another woman’s baby.
“I talked a woman through it over the phone from Old Washington,” she said. “When the ambulance got there, all they had to do was cut the cord.”
All of these scenarios require individuals who are highly-trained, and both Revels and Gray noted that training is available here in Hope through the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana. Revels said scholarship funding is available through an endowment established by the company after the accidental death of a crew from Hope, and through the state ambulance services association.
Call center and dispatch training is provided by Pafford; and employees must be at least 18 years old.
“We depend upon the dispatches and call takers to have the situation calmed down before we get there,” Revels said.
She said call center dispatchers are paid $10 per hour and certified dispatchers $13 per hour, beginning with their training period.
Revels said opportunities for advancement at Pafford EMS are built into the company culture.
Pafford EMT crews work a seven-day shift every two weeks, and EMTs can begin at $35,000 per year, while Paramedics can earn $58,000 per year, she said.
There are currently three full-time crews stationed in Hope, and they average about 12 calls per day, Gray said. He said crew schedules are set annually so that every crew knows exactly when they will be on call.
“You never know what that day is going to bring; every day is different,” Gray said.
He said he has served as the personal Paramedic to former President Bill Clinton during two of Clinton’s visits to Hope.
“It was cool to know that two times in my career I was the personal Paramedic to the President of the United States,” Gray said.