Mar-Mac EMS celebrates 50 years of service

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Members of the Mar-Mac Rescue Squad include Mike Gilman, Renae Stuckman, Dylan Rumph, Samantha Kohls, (back) Tyler Thornton, Dillon Thompson and Kayla Thompson. Not pictured are Dana Ferguson, Sarah Ferrel (student), Justin Mezera, Ryan Bacon, Burt Walters, Ember Martin, Jerry Thornton, Dan Bickel, Kate Young, Briana Pazour, Trampus Thornton, Steve Finney, Nick Stavroplus and Mariah Kucera (student).

Dana Ferguson has served as a Mar-Mac Rescue Squad EMT for 17 years.

With 37 years of service, Burton Walters III is currently the squad’s longest-running EMT. His parents, Burton Jr. and Donna, were among the founding members.

EMS Director Mike Gilman demonstrates how the Lucas 3 chest compression system works. Mar-Mac EMS received the new piece of technology through a grant last year. Battery-operated, it performs compressions just like a person would.

Mar-Mac EMS is active in the community, and can often be seen at the local parades.

The rescue squad’s first ambulance, in 1968, was a Chevrolet Suburban purchased for $4,000.

In 1976, directors of the Mar-Mac Emergency Squad reviewed contributions to the new ambulance. From left are Helen Stade, Irene Pederson, Bill Meyer, Eugene Milewsky, Severin Johnson and Ivy Sauer. The $10,000 goal to purchase a van, replacing the first ambulance, was almost met.

This photo from 1984 shows (front, left to right) Donna Walters, Jim Cowell, Jeff Cowell, Jessie Tornowske; (middle) Jane Lovell, Terri Wall, Kate Young, Pauline Dundee, Mary Jane Ferguson; (back) Burton Walters III, Loren Dundee, John Bell, Jack Slyfield and Cathy Wessels.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

The first call came in at 5:45 p.m. on June 10, 1968, 15 minutes before the rescue squad’s selected starting hour. Larry Weigle and George Vogel made the first run, assisting Keith Klotzbach, in Farmersburg. Their ambulance was a 1968 Chevrolet Suburban purchased from Huebsch Chevrolet for $4,000. The light was from the police department, rigged up by one of the first EMS volunteers, Jim Cowell. Thornburg Funeral Home provided the first kit.

That’s how the Mar-Mac Rescue Squad, Clayton County’s first EMS service, got underway 50 years ago. 

In addition to Cowell, the service’s founding members included Mary Jo Pirc, Mike Mullarkey, Jim Ferguson, Mary Jane Ferguson, Mr. and Mrs. Ronnie Breuer, Melvin and Mary Young, Pat Young, Burton and Donna Walters Jr., Ivy Sauer, Corky Peterson, Ruth Bradley, Bob Hammel, Harry Diehl, Bob Diehl, Wayne Peterson and Chuck Brooks. Dr. D.W. Pfeiffer was the first medical director.

Along with Weigle and Vogel, Louis Sass, Dick and Bruce Hinkel, Jim Mason, Bob Hammel, Gerald Henkes, Kenny Woerm, Paul Scarff Sr., Ronald Breuer, Jim Cowell, Wayne Peterson, Bill Dickey, Jim Teaser, George Peterson, Whitey Corlett, Don Hendrickson, Chuck Sauer, Burton Walters Jr., Phil McCarthy, Robert Flanders, Bob Budde, Terry Ferguson, Morgan Loper and Richard Everson served as volunteer drivers.

The Mar-Mac Rescue Squad’s inception pre-dates even that first call, however. In 1967, the McGregor Achievement Club spearheaded a fundraising campaign to earn money for an ambulance.

“The reason they got an ambulance was that we lost the hospital. They needed to be able to take people from here to Prairie du Chien,” shared Burton Walters III, whose parents were among the founding members. With 37 years of service, he’s currently the squad’s longest-running EMT.

Funeral directors, who once handled patient transport, also got out of the practice of responding to emergency transports because of technical responsibilities and liabilities imposed by state and federal regulations.

The Mar-Mac Rescue Squad’s articles of incorporation were drawn up on April 4, 1968. The EMS volunteers attended an advanced first aid course taught by Pfeiffer later that month.

Dispatch, said Walters, was established at the light plant, in McGregor. Don Hendrickson manned the line during the day, while Ivy Sauer and Corky Peterson took night duties, he recalled.

“There was a seven-digit number you had to call,” Walters said. “Don would go down the line and manually call everyone until he got a crew. He started with our house first because he could get two people.”

When he started with the rescue squad in 1981, Walters said pagers had just come into use.

“We thought that was pretty neat,” he quipped.

Those technology changes, he noted, have wrought some of the biggest changes for the service.

“You used to do CPR on people until you were exhausted. Now, the Lucas does it for us,” he said, referring to the Lucas 3 chest compression system Mar-Mac EMS received through a grant last year. Battery-operated, it performs compressions just like a person would.

“It saves us when CPR becomes tiring, and allows for continuous compressions,” explained Mike Gilman, Mar-Mac EMS Director and 18-year volunteer on the squad.

When he first started, Walters said the “run sheets” were just small pieces of paper containing the basic information about the call. Now, EMTs are tasked with filling out what he described as an “ungodly form,” which can take an hour or more to complete.

Seventeen-year volunteer Dana Ferguson also said going from paperwork—writing everything with a pen—to the computer has been one of the biggest changes.

The crew’s equipment has also changed, with some devices falling out of use. Things like airway tubes, oxygen masks and cervical collars have become more specialized, rather than one-size-fits-all.

“Back in the day, it used to be a towel,” said Gilman for when EMTs needed to support someone’s neck.

Ambulances also carry more drugs, he said, adding that Mar-Mac was recently cleared to have naloxone (Narcan) to combat opioid overdoses. Because of that, Gilman said the medical director, which is currently Dr. David DeHart, of Mayo Clinic, is more involved.

There are some things EMTs no longer do, though, said Walters. For example, in his EMT class, participants learned how to perform a tracheotomy, something that’s not allowed today.

“It’s always evolving,” he commented.

Otherwise, shared Ferguson, “for hands-on procedures, there haven’t been too many changes.”

Costs have also gone up. While the first ambulance cost $4,000, Walters estimated a new rig would run $180,000 to $190,000. Gilman said drugs, like EpiPens, have roughly tripled in cost.

Those costs, in 2000, forced Mar-Mac EMS to become a billing service, charging people for calls. Prior to that, they subsisted on donations. Although the cities and local townships have made generous donations, EMS is not an essential service in Iowa, so the squad receives no set allocation of funds.

Funding hasn’t slowed progress too much, said Bona Dean Feller and Marguerite Clinton, who, along with Chris Meyer, Jerry Thornton, Dan Thornton and Linda Witter, are part of the EMS governing board.

“We’ve been able to keep up,” said Clinton, who described the board as an advisor of the rescue squad.

“We meet four times per year and have a treasurer (Linda Witter),” Feller added. “They run everything by us. If they’re thinking about getting new equipment, they show us and tell us the cost.” 

According to a report in the North Iowa Times, Mar-Mac Rescue Squad responded to 127 calls in 1972, compared to 145 in 1971. Last year, said Gilman, there were 171 response calls.

While the number has increased, Walters felt the nature of the calls has grown less severe over the years.

“We used to see a lot of flail chest wounds when people didn’t wear their seatbelts and they’d hit the steering wheel,” he described. “With seatbelts and airbags, you don’t see near as many of those types of injuries.” 

“We used to take two to three people off Pikes Peak every year,” he continued, referencing the days before railings were constructed. “Once, we took an elderly lady out of a treetop. Now, the fire department does that and carries the jaws [of life].”

Walters was there when Bob Budde fell off the elevator and had to be extricated from up on top and lowered to the ground in a basket. He’s also rescued people on the river.

When the bridge closed in the early 1980s, Walters said it was difficult for the rescue squad, which either had to travel up to Lansing to reach Prairie du Chien, or take patients to La Crosse, Guttenberg or Elkader.

“Then, they started hauling us across on the ferry. We gave them a radio and they would hold the ferry for us. They would take just the ambulance across,” he said. “When we came back, we had to wait in line. But they never charged a dime.”

But through all the changes, the rescue squad’s commitment to McGregor and Marquette hasn’t changed.

“We’re fortunate to respond as much as we can,” Ferguson said. “We’re shorthanded sometimes, but we’re here and available. We work together for the community, and we want to see the ambulance service continue on.”

“The people now, and back then, did it for a reason,” Gilman shared. “They wanted to help people in the community, and that’s what they did. That desire to help people hasn’t changed.”

Walters said he takes pride in his service to the community, and has enjoyed helping people. He’s seen the whole circle of life.

“I’ve seen people born, and I’ve seen a few die,” he remarked.

“Some of our calls, some of the patients, you take it personally. You wonder how they’re doing,” added Ferguson, who said she’s even gone to wakes, for closure. She visits one young man’s grave every year. “I take a piece of them with me. I don’t leave it in the back of the squad.”

More EMTs are needed, though, said Clinton.

“To be able to have a rescue squad with trained people is a real blessing. When you don’t need one, you don’t think about it,” Feller said. “But the calls fall on a lot of the same people.”

In order to stir interest, Gilman said the rescue squad implemented a ride-along program seven or eight years ago, allowing people to see how the rescue squad works before committing time and money to training.

“You can get in the back of the ambulance, see how it runs and see how the patient is taken care of. They can decide if they want to pursue it or if it will not work for them,” Ferguson said.

Interested people can also learn more at the Mar-Mac EMS 50th anniversary celebration, held this Saturday, May 19, from noon to 4 p.m. at the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre, in Marquette. The event will include refreshments, a coloring contest, silent auction and gun raffle drawing. Funds raised will go toward purchasing a new defibrillator. 

Ferguson said attendees can also socialize with past and current EMS volunteers.

“We’ll have memory boards with pictures of different trainings and calls we’ve been a part of and different group photos,” she said.

To learn more, see the ad on page 16 of this week's North Iowa Times.

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