EMS silver anniversary: Time flies when you’re saving lives

EMS Dale dukes directors cutting cake

Former Sussex County Council president Dale Dukes takes his turn at cutting the cake as, from left, former Sussex County EMS directors George Torbert, Bill Stevenson and Glenn Luedtke and current EMS director Bob Stuart look on.

GEORGETOWN – Time flies when you are having fun – and saving lives.

Sussex County Emergency Medical Services’ silver anniversary celebration Saturday night featured a reflection of the past 25 years.

Past EMS directors Bob Stevenson, George Torbert and Glenn Luedtke joined current EMS director Bob Stuart and former county council president Dale Dukes in sharing stories, successes, challenges and growth of the now nationally-acclaimed paramedic department.

“So many lives have been saved because of the dedicated EMTs, directors and employees that have run this department,” said Mr. Dukes. “We hired the first director, Bill Stevenson and he set the bar high. And each director that has come on has raised the bar a little higher.”

Sussex County Emergency Medical Services was established as a non-transporting EMS service through a statewide initiative approved by the General Assembly in 1990. It was designed to provide acute, urgent medical care to citizens particularly in the rural communities where residents and hospitals can be separated by significant distances.

EMS andrew vickers with lifepak 15

Sussex County EMS paramedic Andrew Vickers holds the modern LifePak 15 monitor/defibrillator device.

What began in January 1991 as a one unit/12-person department that responded to 3,745 calls has grown to nine stations, 11 units and a staff of 109 persons.

Last year Sussex EMS answered more than 18,000 calls.

Over the 25 years, Sussex County EMS paramedics have had contact with an estimated quarter of a million patients.

“As near as we can tell it is somewhere around 250,000 patients,” said Mr. Stevenson. “That is 250,000 Sussex County residents and visitors.”

Sussex EMS teams have earned numerous medals in national paramedic JEMS Games competition, including gold in 2005 and 2011, silver in 2006, 2009 and 2010 and bronze in 2012.

“They have won the most medals of any organization in the United States,” said Mr. Luedtke.

In 2011 Sussex EMS was recognized by the National Association of EMTs as the best paid EMS service in the country.

Sussex County paramedics have even ridden camels while participating in international competition in Israel.

“Bill Stevenson laid the foundation for it to grow and to be built on. He did this with the help of many people,” said Mr. Torbert. “Still to this day when I see a paramedic vehicle responding down the road … I am proud of the service it provides and what this system has become. Smart decisions by many people on a departmental level, a county level and a state level have allowed this system to grow.”

Mr. Stevenson recalled county council’s support.

“We went to them with solid plans. They never batted an eye. We always had patients first and council recognized that and they supported it every step of the way,” said Mr. Stevenson.

The EMS operating budget for fiscal year 2016 is $13.6 million; Sussex County pays 70 percent or approximately $9.5 million.

“One of the things that we pledged to do among a number of things was to keep Bill Stevenson’s dream alive and hire only the best and make sure that they got the best training that they could get,” said Mr. Luedtke.

“Even though sometimes I didn’t quite agree with all of it – it seemed like it was pretty expensive – I justified it by saying, ‘Well, if I ever need the paramedics and call 9-1-1, I want them to bring the best that they have,” said Mr. Dukes.

“I strongly believe, and maybe I am biased, that we are the best,” said Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson. “It took this amount of effort, this leap of faith, the support of the state … all of the stories that we heard here tonight to get to that point. It’s quite remarkable. It is because of the dedicated men and women that answer that call. It comes from the support of the county council and the state and the administration, many of the administrators before me take a lot of credit for getting us to this point.”

Along the way there have been logistical challenges and even tragedy.

“You have to remember some of the stations we were in. We had one unit,104, that was in a construction trailer,” said Mr. Luedtke. “And (Unit) 103 was in a morgue. How many ‘Morgue Rats’ are out there?” A number of paramedics in attendance at the CHEER Community Center raised their hands.

At one juncture, an EMS headquarters was based in the “roach motel in Lewes for a period of time,” Mr. Stuart said.

Particularly tragic was 2008.

There was a horrifying accident in which a paramedic staffer was seriously injured.

And on June 17, 2008 paramedic Stephanie Callaway, a five-year veteran with Sussex County EMS, died as the result of an ambulance collision.

“2008 was probably the worst any of us has ever had professionally. Of course we lost Stephanie. That was a blow for all of us that many of us still haven’t recovered from,” said Mr. Luedtke. “What it did for me was it pointed out just how dangerous this profession is and caused me to take up another cause … in my retirement and that was EMS safety. I was privileged to work with the National Association of EMTs and put together the EMS safety courses for providers which we are now using in Sussex County. Now, it is being taught to the students in the Del Tech program.”

“So, Steph, you have a legacy,” said Mr. Luedtke.

Mr. Dukes, county council president at the time of the Jan. 15, 1991 christening, had the honor of making the first call to the Sussex Emergency Operations Center to officially announce that Unit 41 “is ready for service.”

“They didn’t tell me that Unit 41 wouldn’t start,” said Mr. Dukes. “Shortly after, we got a real call. They needed a paramedic unit; we only had one. Mr. Stevenson’s wife had had a little fender-bender. So they took the magnetic signs off the paramedic unit, stuck them on this vehicle, jumped in and took off. We were poor back then. We didn’t have a lot of money. Since then things have improved.”

The celebration included tributes and proclamations from:

  • state House of Representatives, presented by State Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown;
  • the state Senate, presented by State Rep. Ron Gray, R-Selbyville, pinch-hitting for senators unable to attend;
  • Jack Markell, presented by state Rep. Rich Collins, R-Millsboro;
  • S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., presented by Karen McGrath; and
  • the Delaware State EMS Association.

“I think I have a special qualification to read this because the Sussex County EMTs saved my life a few years ago,” said Rep. Collins. “And I thank them heartily for that.”

Sussex County Council recognized the silver anniversary back in January.

Taped video tributes from former county administrators Bob Stickels and Dave Baker and current county council president Michael Vincent, R-Seaford, could not be shown due to technical difficulties.

Paramedic units are today armed with LifePak 15 monitor/defibrillator devices, which

run patients’ heart tracing, blood pressure, oxygen saturation and carbon dioxide levels, among other functional measurements.

“Today Sussex County EMS is an integral part of the healthcare system. We are where we are today because of those who were there yesterday,” said Mr. Stuart, among the original 10 paramedics in 1991 that were saluted. “The question now is where will we be in the future? The paramedics of the 21st century like those that have come before us will need to be knowledgeable, skilled, resourceful and innovative. As we move forward I believe that Sussex County EMS will continue to be the example that others who want to excel will follow.”

EMS golden 10

The original Golden 10 paramedics were among those honored at Saturday’s Sussex County EMS 25th anniversary celebration. From left, current EMS director Bob Stuart, original paramedics Kirk Miller, John Kinsley and Mike Harris, Melissa Lanman (current paramedic whose father Ashley Lanman was an original paramedic), past EMS director Glenn Luedtke, first EMS director Bill Stevenson and original paramedic Frank Shade.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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