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Gianforte Honors First Responders

Gov. Greg Gianforte and Department of Public Health and Human Services Director Charlie Brereton honored Montana Emergency Medical Services personnel from Glendive, Big Sky, Rudyard, Ennis, Great Falls and Hinsdale during an awards ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda Wednesday, May 22.

“From offering community support to responding to emergencies, our EMS providers across Montana work around the clock to deliver life-saving care to Montanans in need,” Gianforte said. “Today, and every day, we thank these professionals and their families for their sacrifice and commitment to care.”

In attendance were representatives from the Hill County Ambulance, Gallatin Gateway Volunteer Fire Department, Madison Valley Ambulance Service Ennis, City of Great Falls/Cascade County Emergency Communication Center, Glendive Ambulance Service, and Hinsdale Ambulance Service.

They were joined by Dr. Michael Kremkau, a fellowship trained EMS Medical Director from Missoula and chair of the Montana EMS Advisory Committee and Shari Graham, the EMS Systems Manager for DPHHS.

Brereton said EMS workers are there for Montanans each and every day. In 2023, EMS services were requested more than 150,000 times, with more than 8,000 requests for children experiencing illness or injury.

“Montana’s first responders are there for the communities they serve,” Brereton said. “Those who have devoted their careers to EMS deserve a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for their service to Montana.”

Nominated by their peers, awards were presented to: Volunteer EMS Provider of the Year Award, Lowell Strissel, Hill County Ambulance. This award honors a volunteer EMS provider who is exemplary in his/her quality of patient care and dedication to their community.

Strissel was nominated by Bridget Kallenberger, a lead Public Health Nurse for Hill County.

Kallenburger states: “Lowell is the type of volunteer who if he sees a need and he has the skills or ability to do it, he will take care of it and expects no recognition. He has been a mentor to new EMTs, passing on his knowledge and experience to the next generation of volunteers.

The Volunteer of the Year Award recognizes the selfless contributions of individuals who have made a significant impact on their community through their volunteer work. In my opinion, Lowell is the definition of this and is very deserving of the EMS Volunteer Provider of the Year Award.”

Career EMS Career Provider of the Year Award, Steve Emerson, Big Sky Ski Patrol, Gallatin Gateway Volunteer Fire Department.

This award is for a career EMS provider who exemplifies quality of care and dedication to the community.

Emerson was nominated by Catherine Trainor, Jerry Johnson and Casey Heerdt of the Big Sky Ski Patrol.

Emerson has had a 30-year career with Big Sky Ski Patrol, 17 of those years as the Medical Supervisor. During that time, he was also the Medical Coordinator for the Gallatin Gateway Volunteer Fire Department from 2005 to 2015, as well as being an EMT instructor for the community and for the Ski Patrol.

Johnson states: Many of Steve’s students have gone onto leadership positions on the Big Sky Patrol, ambulances and fire stations around the state.

Steve grew up in Gallatin County, graduated from Bozeman Senior High School, and has dedicated his career to training and establishing a community of EMS providers in southwest Montana. Under Steve’s mentorship, decades of EMS providers have been providing compassionate, professional, and honest care to hundreds of people in the worst moments of their lives.

EMS Service of the Year Award, Madison Valley Ambulance Service, Ennis. The EMS Service of the Year recipient exhibits dedication to improving patient care through education, injury prevention, community awareness, medical director involvement and collaboration with surrounding EMS services.

The Madison Valley Ambulance Service was nominated by Allen Rohrback, Jr., CEO of Madison Valley Medical Center.

The Madison Valley Ambulance Service was established in May of 2021. Prior to that time, the Ennis area relied on the Town of Ennis Volunteer Ambulance Service that struggled to meet the needs of the growing community.

The Madison Valley Medical Center recognized the community’s desire for a fully staffed ambulance service and took on the task of integrating EMTs and paramedics into the hospital system. The Town of Ennis and those EMS volunteers generously donated the ambulance- related equipment to the Medical Center as they transitioned the volunteer service to a hospital-owned service.

Today, the Ambulance Service fully staffs two advanced life support ambulances with a third ambulance available. They are consistently able to respond to 911 requests within two minutes. EMTs and paramedics work in the emergency department as Emergency Room Technicians and assist nursing and medical staff in the hospital, clinic, and throughout the facility.

Rohrback states: “We now have an Advanced Life Support service with a two-minute average roll-out time, dedicated EMTs and paramedics that are fully integrated in the emergency department and assist wherever needed throughout the hospital, and Medical Director leadership that is active in every aspect of the service.”

911 Dispatcher of the Year Award, Brandon Skogen of the City of Great Falls/Cascade County Emergency Communication Center. This award recognizes a 911 dispatcher who has shown exemplary performance of duties as the “first, first responder” in medical emergencies.

Skogen was nominated by Robert Shupe, Assistant Chief of Operations for the Great Falls Fire Department.

Skogen’s background in emergency response is diverse and this no doubt helps him in his dispatch role. His ability to see things from both ends of an emergency has helped with his personal success and make the dispatch center better. He is currently completing his 19 th year as a 911 dispatcher.

Skogen assisted all volunteer fire departments in Cascade County to create their own departmental run cards for EMS and fire-based response. He helped them understand how run cards affect the dispatch center and resource management. He ensured that all chief officers understood the concept of continuity of care and what resources were needed to be sent through EMD dispatching guidelines. Chief Shupe states: “As a 40-year career firefighter and Chief Officer, I have worked with many dispatchers and truly understand that the dispatchers play a critical role in the success of an incident from the very start. Brandon stands out as one of the best that I have worked with, as a frontline firefighter as well as a Chief Officer. His efforts have without a doubt increased the effectiveness of many departments in North Central Montana and Cascade County, as well as the City of Great Falls Cascade County Emergency Communications Center.”

EMS Supporter of the Year Award, Garnee Erickson of Glendive. This award honors an individual(s) who has demonstrated exceptional support for EMS, EMS agencies and the broader EMS system.

Erickson was nominated by EMS Supporter of the Year by Kathleen Linder, EMT on behalf of the Glendive Ambulance Service.

Erickson began her health care career when she took the first EMT course offered in Baker when she was a junior in high school. She went on to complete LPN education and in 1983 she completed her RN education. She was a member of the EMS service in Ekalaka from 1985-1999. She has worked as an RN at the hospital in Glendive since 1999.

Linder states: “Garnee has been a guest instructor for many EMS trainings over the years. She has spent countless hours providing education to our service. We can always count on Garnee to tell us how it is: both things that we have done well, or perhaps what we should or could have done differently. This warm, direct honesty is essential to keep both the cogs of pre-hospital service and hospital service turning efficiently.”

The EMS for Children Supporter Award, the Hinsdale Ambulance Service. This award recognizes an individual whose actions contributed to saving a life and who remained calm in the face of a crisis.

This nomination was made by the DPHHS EMS for Children Program.

The Hinsdale Ambulance is a volunteer ambulance service and an affiliate of Valley County Stat Ambulance Service. They are being recognized for the emphasis they put on being prepared for the smallest of patients. They first applied to become a Pediatric Ready EMS service in 2019 and they were recently renewed by the EMS for Children Program — a recognition of their commitment to pediatric care.

To be recognized as Pediatric Ready, an EMS agency must have a designated Pediatric Emergency Care Coordinator. The Pediatric Emergency Care Coordinator acts as a pediatric advocate making sure the agency is ready to care for children by carrying appropriately sized equipment and holding annual training focusing on the care of sick and injured children.

In addition to renewing their pediatric recognition, the Hinsdale Volunteer Ambulance prioritized pediatric education and training by requesting the Montana EMS for Children pediatric airway manikin to practice inserting an oral airway and ventilation skills so that they would be prepared for pediatric emergencies as a rural volunteer EMS agency.

As the agency’s Pediatric Emergency Care Coordinator, Dorothy Jensen states: “We tend to get comfortable with adult patients, but when we are faced with children it adds a higher level of stress. Our service strives to be the best we can be. We continue to train for the one time we will need to use a skill. We had a call last fall when an 8-year-old child had a horrific 4-wheeler crash. When we arrived, this child was having a difficult time breathing and unconscious. We received almost the same scenario from the SIM-MT truck not once, but twice! Going through that scenario and TBI training saved this child’s life.”

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