Job has changed, saving lives has not

Paramedics have seen a lot get better over the years

Friday, Jan. 29, 2010

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Staff photo by EMILY BARNES
Ginger Barnes, an emergency medical technician-paramedic stationed at Waldorf Volunteer Fire Department Company 12, uses a stethoscope on a patient as she responds to a call in Waldorf last week.

On call: When Ginger Barnes was volunteering as an emergency medical technician in Ridge about 30 years ago, the function of the rescue workers was mainly to scoop patients into a Cadillac and rush them to the hospital.

Now, things are much different for Barnes, a professional paramedic in Charles County. She can medicate someone to help stop seizures, thread a tube down the windpipe of a person with a collapsed lung and monitor a patient's heartbeat. She's delivered six babies, one on a stairwell, and works 24-hour shifts.

"I like variety, and I'm pretty good with change," she said. "I don't like being complacent."

Fortunately, as a "float" medic who moves from station to station as needed, Barnes experiences a lot of transition. If she's based for the day in Waldorf, she'll be on the go from to the time she clocks in until the time she goes home. Other areas in the county move at a slower pace, she said.

Barnes has worked as a medic for the county for about three and a half years, but she has been involved in rescue work for much longer.

A history of service: In her hometown of Ridge, most people volunteered, and Barnes followed suit, becoming an EMT at the age of 17. After taking a break when she got married and had children, Barnes started doing rescue work again at Mechanicsville, where a friend encouraged her to become a paramedic.

"I felt like I was looking for additional knowledge," Barnes said, adding that she signed up for the paramedic program at the College of Southern Maryland. She's glad she did; Barnes said she loves her job and helping save lives. "Do we feel good about it? Yes, absolutely," she said.

Staying level-headed: But with long, grueling hours and intense demands, Barnes' job isn't for the fainthearted. The paramedic usually leads a team of EMTs, Barnes said, so it's especially important that she stays calm and focused during stressful situations.

Once, Barnes responded to a barn in Hughesville after a man got his arm caught in a saw mill, severely injuring it from shoulder to elbow, she said.

"We just tried to control the bleed[ing] as well as we could to save the arm," she said.

By the time a helicopter arrived to transport the patient, Barnes and an EMT had bandaged the arm up and had the man all ready to board the aircraft. Other times, the calls aren't so intense. Sometimes people call an ambulance for a toothache or simply say they aren't feeling well and have their suitcase packed by the time rescue workers arrive.

But much as she likes the variety, the part of her job Barnes likes most is interacting with different people.

"My mother will tell you I'm just like my father, that I don't know a stranger," she said.

Bethany Rodgers

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