When Gene Winkler announced in 2013 that he was retiring from county emergency medical service duties, he must have done so with a wink, or with fingers crossed behind his back, because he did nothing of the sort.
Perhaps he meant to retire, but instead he continued, as those in EMS and who have benefited from his care can attest. It hasn’t been unusual to see Winkler respond to a serious call even when not on duty, if he knew he could get to the scene and intervene before an ambulance arrived. In 2015, he took on even more, stepping up to chair a newly-formed EMS advisory committee.
County ambulances had state inspections a few weeks ago, and at the time, Winkler reluctantly suggested it was time to slow down, but stopped short of using the “r-word.”
Last week, Winkler made it official. His joints no longer a match for his passion to help, Winkler’s 44th year of ambulance service is his last, although he said he would still be available for calls that need a third responder. However, never again will his name show up on a monthly schedule, and he won’t take a place on a reconstituted advisory committee.
Winkler deserves our gratitude for more than four decades of providing emergency care, and it would seem the best way for us to show that is to put out the call for people to step up to fill the void.
Times have changed, and volunteers like Winkler are hard to come by these days. That’s left our ambulance service short-handed, with many folks on call 300 to 400 hours a month to provide coverage. Even so, the number of times EMS crews have been on first-responder status because two people weren’t available to transport patients has increased in recent years.
Even if the county decides to move in the direction of having at least some full-time emergency responders, and we believe it should, the system won’t work to provide 24/7 coverage without part-time volunteers. Those we have are dedicated, but they can only do so much.
New county EMS director Ed Debesis would be happy to explain to anyone what’s involved in becoming an emergency medical responder — recruiting more volunteers is one of his priorities.
Any gratitude we might express to Winkler pales in comparison to the satisfaction that comes from knowing he’s saved lives and brought relief from pain and suffering to countless people. We have little doubt he’d say the trade-offs necessary to do so were well worth it.
The best way to say thanks to Winkler for his service would be to do something to ensure your neighbors have continued access to emergency medical services, and that doesn’t require becoming an EMT.
Call or write county commissioners to express your support and/or concerns about the future of EMS. Go out of your way to let your local volunteers know they’re appreciated. Tell others how EMS helped you, family members, or friends. If you can’t do it yourself, encourage others to look into volunteering.
With recommendations from an expert consultant and a qualified, experienced director, EMS is poised to move forward, and strong community support will help push it along. Chalk up assists for saving lives by being vocal supporters. Consider signing up for the next emergency responder course.
— david colburn