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Life inside the ambulance

Local paramedic deemed hall of fame worthy by EMS association

November 1, 2012
By DAVID ALEXANDER - Staff Writer ( , Times-Republican

When Dennis Bachman became a paramedic, they still used hearses for ambulances. Since then, the profession has grown significantly, thanks in part to his efforts throughout the state.

Now, more than 35 years later, the Iowa Emergency Medical Services Association (IEMSA) will give Bachman the EMS Hall of Fame award. IEMS will honor Bachman at its annual conference, Nov. 10 in Des Moines.

Kim Elder, Marshall County Emergency Management coordinator, along with others, nominated Bachman. She said that as Bachman, 68, nears retirement, the award signifies all that he has given to the field of emergency responders.

Article Photos

Dennis Bachman sits in an ambulance Wednesday morning at Marshalltown Medical & Surgical Center where he has worked since 1977 as a paramedic. The Iowa Emergency Medical Services Association will honor Bachman at its annual conference Nov. 10 in Des Moines by presenting him with its Hall of Fame distinction.

"They want someone who has really put their whole life into EMS, and Dennis really has," she said. "He was a pioneer when you mention Dennis's name, and even outside Iowa, people really recognize his name (sic) as a leader."

Bachman's experience in the field of paramedics is extensive.

He has been a CPR instructor for the American Heart Association since 1978 and is a founding member of the Local Emergency Planning Committee for Marshall County. He serves on the Iowa Air Medical Advisory board and continues to supervise and conduct training for several EMS squads.

Over the course of his career, Bachman said he learned a lot including what it takes to do the job.

"You can't let every call build up on your head or your emotions - you are going to burn out," he said. "You can't do that 'what if' that gets people tied up: 'what if I had got there quicker; what if I had done this.' You learn from every call."

IEMSA's mission is to provide voice and promote the highest quality and standards of the state's emergency services. It recently supported several bills, including one that created transportable medical orders for the elderly infirmed and those with terminal diseases and another that created a $50 tax credit for EMS and fire department volunteers.

Bachman has been instrumental in establishing several EMS groups throughout Marshall and surrounding counties.

However, dealing with the hectic life of being a paramedic hasn't always been easy, Bachman said. The job can be as trying as it is rewarding. For better or worse, some calls stick with you years after. In particular, he never forgets calls involving children.

"You remember those calls," he said, pausing slightly before he finished. "Like they happened yesterday."

Bachman said he has always tried to concern himself primarily with the patient's care. Every patient is an individual, and first responders do well to remember that. An ambulance is a round-the-clock operation, so trying to devise a one-size-fits-all formula for how to approach it does a disservice to patients.

Ultimately, patients' faces are meaningless to him, he said. Their care is what's important. And while his approach may seem calculated and cold, it is part of what makes a good paramedic: compartmentalizing emotions and staying calm under pressuring, remembering what to do in order to save someone's life.

"He is always calm and steady," said Theresa Hillers, EMS director at Marshalltown Medical & Surgical Center where Bachman works. "He's a go-to person."

Bachman hired Hillers 26 years ago as a paramedic. She said she recalls how taken aback she was that, although he was an instructor, he acted more as a mentor. His professionalism always rose to the surface, she said. She can't recall him ever raising his voice.

He taught her how to manage the chaos of a disaster scene.

Cultivating such a level-headed and professional demeanor is all about faith - in the training and in God, Bachman said.

"You have to put it in someone else's hands at some point," he said. "My faith has kept me sane."

But the job isn't all dour reflection and emotional isolation, he said. It can also be very rewarding. If it weren't, he wouldn't have kept doing it for so long.

Whenever he uses CPR to save a patient's life, something he said is rarer than many people realize, Bachman said he can't help but feel a sense of personal triumph. Some patients even throw parties commemorating the date paramedics like Bachman performed live-saving measures on them.

Even independent of life-saving heroics, the job is often exhilarating on its own terms, he said. He has seen students from his CPR classes raise children who go on to become paramedics. The job has taught him something every day. He never knows what the day has in store for him.

"It was somewhat of an adventure," he said.

Denise Bacon, a paramedic and colleague of Bachman, said he brings years of experience to the rig and that his work with paramedics in the region has been paramount. His research efforts and commitment to ensuring paramedics have the proper equipment are invaluable, she said.

Not only has he worked extensively to cultivate knowledge and reputation, Bacon said, personally, he is determined and patient - qualities she said make him a good leader.

While Bachman said he is honored to receive the award, he sees himself as but a cog in a larger machine.

"We go out and get them from the ditches, and often patients don't see who brings them into the hospital," he said. "(Other paramedics) deserve the award as much as I do. It's not an individual effort. It's a team effort."



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