In 1969, SECH officially opened its doors and thus began the first true ambulance service in Springfield with a 1967 Chevy Suburban converted to function as an ambulance. Frank England, an orderly at the hospital in the 1970s, recalls being part of the team that painted the ambulance and got it ready to use. He was also one of those who responded with the ambulance when a call for help came.
In the 1995 celebration of the 25th anniversary of SECH, an interview discussing the history of the ambulance service was conducted with Mary Lovell, a long-time resident of Baca County who served as a nurse aide at SECH for many years. She stated,
“When an ambulance call came in, one of the aides (usually me if I was on duty) would call a driver from a list of volunteers. I would continue to go down the list until I reached the first available driver. When the driver arrived at the hospital, we would go out to pick up our patient. We didn’t have much in the way of supplies and equipment in the ambulance. There was an oxygen tank, a blood pressure cuff, stethoscope, bandages and resuscitation bag. The nurse aides had no emergency training like today’s CPR aside from the experience they got from working in the emergency room. There wasn’t any direct radio contact with the hospital as we have today. If we needed to speak with anyone at the hospital, we called the sheriff who in turn called the hospital and relayed questions and answers.”
Lovell made history along with Frank England and a few others when they became Springfield’s first EMTs in 1976. Worth Poteet who was also employed by the hospital and took that first EMT class, assumed leadership of the ambulance service in Springfield. By 1977, Poteet and Lovell were the only EMTs still responding with SECH Ambulance Service, and the need to recruit more help became quickly evident as they were “on call” for emergencies 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
A second class was offered in 1978, taught by Dr. Antonio Manalo in Springfield. Among the 24 who took the class was Baca County resident, Dennis Ring. After responding to vehicle accidents, as a member of Otero County Sheriff’s Posse, Ring chose to become an EMT because of a desire to have the knowledge and training to “not just stand there” while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. He notes the significant changes in EMS during his time ranging from improvements in supplies such as c-collars, gurneys, monitors, and defibrillators to the dramatic changes in ambulances and the number of pre-hospital medications that can now be given. Ring proudly recalls the efforts of their team of EMTs and the community to raise money for the first new ambulance, a 1979 Ford Type III, a box type unit purchased in 1979. It was a monumental effort as they had to raise $30,000, a feat that seemed impossible to some at the time. Ring volunteered with SECH Ambulance until 2006 when he became a full-time staff member and just retired last year, retaining his certification for a period of 36 years.
Change occurred rapidly in the early years, and leadership of SECH Ambulance was not an exception. After Poteet turned it over, the role was shuffled among a few other hospital employees including RN Dottie Woodhouse and in 1991, Tom Lovell, then head of the Lab Department at SECH. It became evident that a significant amount of time needed to be devoted to the ambulance service in order to maintain a high standard of care. Having a full-time job elsewhere in the hospital made this difficult, so in 1992, the job was offered and accepted as a full-time position to Rick Hartley, former hospital board member and volunteer EMT.
Our service has seen a number of changes among our fleet of ambulances over the years as well. Hartley recalls how after trading in the 1979 Ford ambulance for a new 1987 Chevy Type I (box type), one day it caught fire due to an electrical short and burned. With the insurance money, they were able to replace it with a 1991 Ford Collins Type III Diesel (a box type), but while waiting on that ambulance to arrive they purchased a used Ford Type II (van type). In 1992, Hartley, applied for a grant to buy a new ambulance with 4×4 capability for emergencies occuring in harder to reach locations or on poor road conditions. The grant, received from the State of Colorado, was used to purchase a 1992 Ford Type III ambulance as well as a blood pressure monitor and two automatic defibrillators. One stipulation of the grant was that the older used ambulance be placed in service elsewhere in the district. At the time, the Pritchett/Kim Quick Response Team (QRT) based out of Pritchett was in need of a unit, so the Ford van type ambulance was placed there.
Later grants allowed SECH Ambulance Service to again update the fleet first with a 1997 Ford Type I, then a 2003 Ford Type I and most recently a 2010 Dodge Type I. In addition, in 2001, SECH Ambulance Service became one of the first agencies in the state of Colorado to purchase a smaller transfer ambulance, in this case, a converted 2001 Ford Excursion. Later a 2006 GMC Yukon was added to the transfer fleet. SECH Ambulance Service now maintains two box type ambulances and the two smaller transfer units. All four units are stocked with the required equipment and supplies to operate an Advanced Life Support service. As replacements have occurred, the older model units have been donated or sold to other ambulance services or local QRTs.
QRTs have played an important role in Baca County’s Emergency Medical Services. They were born out of a need for a faster response to emergencies in the most rural locations. They generally do not transport patients but instead provide supportive care until the nearest ambulance arrives.
Kim QRT out of Las Animas County was the first QRT in the state of Colorado. It began providing service to the Kim area around 1979 or the early 1980s. In 1991, a few people from the Pritchett area became certified EMTs so the two regions combined becoming the Pritchett/Kim QRT. Around 1995, Kim returned to operating their own service out of Kim and Pritchett QRT retained a unit until 2006. At that point, there were no longer any certified EMTs in Pritchett so the Pritchett QRT was discontinued. Kim Ambulance is still operative and currently under the direction of Lon Robertson, Paramedic.
In the mid-1980s, at the encouragement of Worth Poteet, EMTs LeRoy and Esther England of Campo, along with several other early EMTs from that area started Campo QRT. Campo’s first QRT unit, a repurposed 1973 Chevy model van fondly recalled as “the brown bus,” responded to many a patient in need before it was later replaced by a box type unit. They currently operate with the 1997 Ford Type I vehicle donated by SECH Ambulance Service. Though they also assist Walsh Ambulance Service at times by responding to calls east of Campo, Campo QRT, is now a subsidiary of SECH Ambulance Service. Many have graciously volunteered their time in service through Campo QRT, but the Englands remain the only EMTs still practicing there.
SECH Ambulance Service first housed ambulances in what is now the maintenance building north of the hospital. The building was initially shared with Central Supply, though Central Supply eventually moved. The ambulance service continued operating from that location until 1999 when Hartley applied for and received a grant to buy a different building and remodel it. The old Auto Parts building on Kansas Street was purchased. Having significant construction experience, Hartley and his son, Jered, transformed the building into the current ambulance station with attached classroom and office space.
In 1988, SECH Ambulance Service was struggling to find and keep volunteers to staff the ambulances. A shortage of equipment needed to treat patients was also a significant problem. SECH District, also experiencing financial limitations, was unable to provide the funds necessary to purchase additional equipment for the ambulance service. As a result, the EMTs decided to organize the Springfield EMS Association to provide support for the ambulance service. In 1990, Springfield EMS Association, Inc., became incorporated and filed for 501c3 non-profit status which was granted in 1992. The Association’s main goals are to provide man-power, funding for equipment, and training for current and new EMTs. They determined that any equipment acquired through their efforts would be donated to SECH Ambulance Service. The training they work to provide to all of the EMTs in Baca County is offered at no, or very little, cost to the EMTs. Funding is obtained primarily through grants, fundraisers, and donations. Furthermore, Springfield EMS Association Inc. offers CPR and First Aid classes as well as injury prevention training to the public at no cost.
Collaborative teamwork between SECH District and Springfield EMS Association Inc. has brought SECH Ambulance Service up to one of the best small community ambulance services in the state. As we celebrate National EMS Week May 17-23, SECH Ambulance Service and Springfield EMS Association would like to thank you for your continued support and wish you a happy and healthy future.
By Cherilyn England, NREMT-Intermediate/99