First response firm celebrates 25 years locally

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Emergency services celebrated 25 years in Colorado Springs last month and commemorated James R. Woods, who in 1979 brought paramedics and the first ambulance service to El Paso County.

A-1 Paramedics Inc. was founded and owned by Woods, until American Medical Response Inc. bought the company in 1993. Woods served as CEO of AMR Colorado until 1995. He died in November of that year.

Woods, an entrepreneur and an industry leader, saw the area’s shortcoming in the emergency respond field. Twenty-five years ago, Colorado Springs residents lived without paramedics and modern-day ambulance service.

“There were EMTs (emergency medical technicians). Back then, it was just a ride to a hospital,” said Ted Sayer, AMR director of operations for El Paso County. “They would put patients in a van or even a hearse, and just drive them to the hospital really fast.”

Woods was a visionary who was dedicated to the industry, Sayer said. “He was a strong advocate for customer service and had a real slant toward cutting-edge patient care. He was always looking at new technology, new techniques.”

Today, AMR has just under 200 employees in Colorado Springs who respond to 33,000 calls per year. Sixty-five are EMTs, which is the first step in becoming a paramedic. The EMTs, 20 of which are part-time, know basic trauma and life support. Paramedics require substantially more training and education, and specialize in advanced life support. The local AMR branch employs 65 paramedics (45 full-time), and has 24 ambulances that serve the 911 system in Colorado Springs.

“Our average response time in 2003 was six minutes and 26 seconds,” said Doug Moore, AMR spokesman. “During our busy time of day we will have up to 15 ambulances positioned around the county to provide the best response times to a call.”

The location of those ambulances is determined by demand. As ambulances receive calls, AMR positions others not responding to calls to better cover the county.

“Generally when people call 911, it’s a pretty bad day for them,” said Tawnya Silloway, an EMT since December 1990. “It’s good to be able to take care of people.”

She said the EMTs begin their 12-hour shifts at the base on Powers by picking up an ambulance. Generally, she and her partner will run about 12 calls a day.

Silloway, 36, makes it sound easy.

“Our job stress is in the minute,” she said. “Our stress is from getting the call to getting the patient to the hospital.”

But she’s helped deliver a baby.

“They were on their way to the hospital but their car broke. As we were about halfway to the hospital, she said, ‘I really feel like I need to push.’ So she did. And it was an easy labor for her. It was her fourth kid. … Those are the cool things.”

But Silloway’s job requires constantly dealing with people who are under acute stress. And people handle that stress in different ways.

“You run the whole gamut, from people who are so grateful you’re there to others who spit at you, cuss at you, punch you,” said Silloway, whose husband, Steve, works as an analyst at the AMR corporate office.

In 1996, AMR became the first contracted ambulance provider for the city of Colorado Springs and El Paso County.

Founded in 1992, AMR was a national corporation that consolidated several locally owned and operated emergency response companies. In 1996, AMR was acquired by Laidlaw International, becoming a subsidiary of the North American provider of school and city bus transportation, health care transportation and emergency management service. In February 1997, AMR merged with Med Trans, becoming the largest ambulance service provider in the United States, according to Amr.net, the company’s Web site.

AMR employs more than 18,000 paramedics, EMTs, nurses, doctors and support staff through more than 250 community-based operations. The company’s national headquarters is located in Greenwood Village, Colo., near Denver.

- Editorial@csbj.com