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Police paramedics help save lives

Since 2005, the Breezy Point police paramedic program has been helping to save lives in the Breezy Point area.

“What we’re doing is we’re combining resources and providing paramedic care for a fraction of the cost,” said police paramedic officer Jason Rieber.

The program is made up of two officers, Rieber and Josef Garcia. As the title reflects, the two are both trained paramedics and police officers. They are not only employees of the police department, chief Kevin Merschman said, but they’re also casual employees of North Memorial Ambulance.

“Especially in our area, the police department is almost always the first entity on the scene of any call. It’s important our officers are medically trained in any sense because those minutes can make a huge difference,” Garcia said.

Rieber and Garcia both work night shifts, and do so because that’s the time when ambulance response is the longest. Rieber said that at night, paramedics living within close distance to a stationed ambulance can stay in their homes, which can add a few minutes to ambulance response time.

Having Rieber and Garcia on evening shifts keeps the response time of getting a paramedic to a scene low, averaging around five minutes or less.

Rieber said he carries enough gear to adequately handle any medical issue for up to 15 minutes, including full cardiac arrest.

One of the devices he uses is the LUCAS II automated CPR device. It’s a device that arcs over the patient’s body, with a plunger that provides consistent chest compressions without stopping or tiring.

The act of providing CPR can be tiring, but the LUCAS machine is battery powered, has a backup battery and can plug into a wall if need be.

The machine was provided entirely through grants. The Minnesota Heart Consortium donated $10,000, the Essentia Health Foundation donated $5,500 and Pelican Township donated $1,000, Merschman said.

Around Christmas, Rieber used the LUCAS device on Marge Olek. With help from Olek’s family, Rieber, North Memorial paramedics and others, Olek’s life was saved.

Rieber stressed that while the police paramedic program saves lives, each life saved was a combined effort among many people. From the family or friends who give immediate care, the police, first responders and paramedics, the helicopter pilot and the hospital staff, each person plays an integral part in saving a life.

Merschman said the police paramedic officers show strong dedication to their jobs. Each of them essentially holds two jobs, one for the police department and one for North Memorial Ambulance. Furthermore, holding both certifications requires a fair amount of ongoing training.

Retired Breezy Point Police Chief Steve Rudek explained that in the 1970s and 1980s, ambulance response times to Breezy Point could be as long as 30-40 minutes. This compares to 7-8 minutes or less today.

At that time, the nearest ambulance was stationed in Brainerd. Today, ambulances are stationed in Brainerd, Crosslake and Pine River.

It was that response time that led to many steps taken by the Breezy Point Police Department to improve emergency medical care, including the creation of the police paramedics program, which started in 2005.

“We saw a real need to do something to help the citizenry because at that time we were often half hour, 40 minutes away from ambulance service,” Rudek said. “We started to upgrade our education, becoming EMTs, providing a bit more service.”

The Breezy Point police became the first department in the state to carry oxygen and the first department in Crow Wing County to have a first responder team, Rudek said.

Rieber explained that the cost of funding a municipal ambulance service in Breezy Point would be around $300,000 a year. By partnering with North Memorial Ambulance, the city pays around $13,000 a year for paramedic service.

It’s the only partnership of a private ambulance service and municipal police department that Rudek’s aware of in the country.

“From its inception, almost immediately we started having documented saves (of resident’s lives) because of the program and the equipment the officers were carrying. It was very successful and continues to be,” Rudek said.