The Saratoga Sun -

Employers help save lives too

SCWEMS chairman looks to recognize employers who release employees to respond in emergencies


One of the biggest problems facing any rural emergency service is how to minimize and compensate for any “gaps” in coverage. For South Central Wyoming Emergency Medical Services (SCWEMS), whose coverage area stretches across thousands of square miles, the problem is acute.

As explained by newly appointed SCWEMS chair Jeb Steward, gaps in coverage occur when a community doesn’t have an emergency responder on-duty and able to respond to a call for help. Steward said that in these instances, the nearest community with an on-duty EMT dispatches responders to the scene. Often that neighboring community is 20 miles or more away, however, adding significantly to the amount of time needed to get assistance to a person in dire need.

“It’s not like we’re running a full-time paid service where you’re out the door in two minutes (either),” Steward added. SCWEMS is a volunteer service with only one full-time employee and a part-time bookkeeper on the payroll. First responders in the organization get paid $1 an hour for being on call and $50 an hour whenever they are called on to respond to an emergency.

“Clearly, this is not a living wage,” Steward said. EMTs and other responders have to have day jobs in order to pay the rent, and this plays a big role in the coverage problem, particularly during daytime hours.

“Some of our volunteers are not allowed to leave work to respond to an emergency when something happens,” Steward said. He remembered that during his own time as an EMT, he was working at Silver Spur Ranch and “Sometimes you’d just tear out of the hayfields or the cabin.” Steward’s employer, “young Jim York, was happy to let me go,” he said.

These memories helped Steward conceive a new program to encourage employers to be flexible about letting their workers leave at a moment’s notice to respond to an emergency. “What I’m calling it is the employer recognition and incentive program,” Steward said. The concept, he explained, involves getting the word out that certain employers are being good neighbors by giving emergency personnel they employ the freedom to be available, even if that means they will occasionally have to disappear during the middle of a shift.

“At some point, all we have to do is just say thank you. I mean, it’s a big deal–we can’t do it without these employers,” Steward said.

A particularly helpful employer, Steward said, has been the Hanna Senior Center, which employs SCWEMS EMT Donna Pipher. “The Hannah ambulance station has just been running hot recently,” Steward said. With no EMTs in Medicine Bow, and frequent coverage gaps in Elk Mountain, providing emergency services in a timely manner to residents north of Interstate 80 would be near-impossible without the Senior Center’s cooperation, Steward said.

Another success story Steward noted was a recently re-formed partnership between SCWEMS and the Platte Valley Medical Clinic (PVMC). This summer, SCWEMS began paying a portion of one of the PVMC nurse’s wages, in exchange for the clinic making her available to go out on SCWEMS calls when she is needed.

The partnership has dramatically decreased Saratoga’s gaps in coverage, Steward said. One year ago, “Saratoga was being covered predominantly by Encampment during the daytime,” Steward noted. With the new arrangement in place, Encampment’s ambulance station is only covering Saratoga’s calls for a few hours a month anymore, Steward estimated. “This is working very well right now for SCWEMS, the clinic and the Town of Saratoga,” Steward said.

Steward would like to see the program expand, particularly north of Interstate 80 where significant daytime coverage gaps continue to be a problem for the service. He mentioned big area job providers like the Wyoming Department of Transportation, Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the Wyoming Highway Patrol as potential partners. “I wish I had enough employers right now that let their employees go that I could do this (recognition) once a month, but I don’t,” he said wistfully.

Steward said SCWEMS “continues to be very fragile,” and depends on the cooperation of everyone in the community to function well.

“Failure’s not an option. (A speedy emergency response) is very important to everyone in our community–our residents and our guests,” Steward concluded.


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