Charlie Blattner, emergency medical services training officer at Capital City Fire and Rescue, has a simple way of describing his job and that of his fellow EMS workers.
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"People call 911 because they've lost control of something," he said. "It's our job to help them get that back."
This week, paramedics from Capital City Fire and Rescue and other agencies are attending classes to refresh their lifesaving skills. The training is part of a 120-hour requirement that paramedics must have every two years to keep their licenses.
Alice "Twink" Dalton, a nationally renowned educator and author of emergency medicine textbooks, taught the class. She said that over the years, the popular image of emergency medical technicians has changed from mere technicians to medical practitioners.
"The biggest change has been the focus on critical-thinking skills," she said.
Last year Capital City Fire and Rescue responded to 2,372 calls for service.
Most calls are answered in about six minutes.
Almost all are answered by a paramedic. Blattner said EMTs divide 911 calls into three groups - "big sick, little sick and not sick at all."
"Big sick" calls are life-threatening. Heart attacks, seizures, aneurysms and drug overdoses all qualify as big sick. They make up about 20 percent of the agency's calls, according to Blattner.
About 1 percent of those calls require the paramedic to save the life of the victim while in transport to a medical facility. The rest of the calls are "little" or "not sick at all."
They run from a dog bite to vomiting and hypochondria. The number of calls varies from season to season, Blattner said.
"Over the summer with the cruise ships, things really change," she said. "When the tourists come, our call volume doubles at the very minimum."
The Capital City Fire and Rescue emergency medical staff includes 12 paramedics, one second-level EMT and one basic EMT. All are cross-trained to fight fires. They work 24-hour shifts and use four ambulances.
Local paramedic Bryan Young said "the ability to help people change their life" gives him a rush of deep satisfaction. Other paramedics agreed helping others was the main reason they put up with the hours and job demands.
Blattner said people who get into emergency medicine are intensely driven.
There is a dark side to being an EMT or paramedic. Ask any group of emergency medical workers what the worst part of their job is, and many will say it's watching children get seriously injured - especially when the injury was preventable and not the child's fault.
"It's certainly an emotional issue," Blattner said.
An issue critical to Juneau medics and EMS workers in other small towns is the chance of responding to a call that involves someone they know.
"That's what happens in a small community," Blattner said. "You end up working or dealing with family members."
Will Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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