Hoopa Tribe Funds Regional Emergency Services
By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune
K’ima:w Medical Center’s ambulance service is the only lifeline for a lot of people in an area where the nearest hospital can be more than an hour or two away.
Andy Kinniman, an emergency medical technician (EMT), said they handle everything from over-the-bank and white water rescues to delivering babies.
“That’s a big difference between us and city ambulances,” Kinniman said. “Everyone out here has delivered a baby.”
The second time that Kinniman delivered a baby, the mother was in labor for 14 hours before the ambulance was called.
“We had to pull over and deliver the baby right then and there,” Kinniman said. “Highway 96, mile marker 8.9, is what’s written on the birth certificate.”
The first baby he helped deliver was breach – where the baby came out feet first.
“You have to be really careful. You have to widen the birth canal with your hand and guide the baby,” Kinniman said. “But you can’t twist the baby because it’s too fragile.”
Rod Johnson, manager of the ambulance service, said they’ve safely delivered over 30 babies. He said the K’ima:w Medical Center board makes sure they have everything they need to do the job.
“They make sure we have the very best equipment that is out there to help people in our area,” Rod Johnson said.
The service covers a geographical large area; not just towns like Hoopa, Willow Creek, Weitchpec, and Orleans, but all of the miles of hills, forest, and river in between.
Daniel Johnson, a paramedic with K’ima:w’s ambulance service, said if they need to go get someone, they’ll go get them – even if it’s on a road or trail that isn’t meant for an ambulance.
“On a moment’s notice we could be hiking into the woods for hours,” Daniel Johnson said. “We did a hike into the bottom of Grey’s Falls to rescue a heatstroke victim.”
The EMTs and paramedics often carry patients out of the woods on stretchers along switchback trails.
“This summer we had to hike in two miles past the end of South Fork Road,” Kinniman said, “for someone who broke her ankle.”
Their longest rescue was when the group’s manager, Rod Johnson, hiked in and stabilized a patient who was trapped under a piece of broken heavy machinery.
“He had to camp out there until they could get someone to fix the vehicle so they could get it off of him,” Daniel Johnson said.
The ambulance crews also have to be prepared to respond to car accidents and over-the-bank rescues. Each ambulance carries ropes for rappelling, and three types of helmets: climbing helmets, whitewater helmets, and firefighting helmets.
“Three people went over the bank and down 350 feet in the Sommes Bar area, “Rod Johnson said. “Our guys rappelled down and stabilized the two live people.”
A Coast Guard helicopter helped pull the survivors to safety.
“There are such limited rescue resources out here that a lot of the time we’re the only ones there,” Kinniman said.
This means that ambulance crews often handle everything on their own, from controlling traffic, treating the injured, to freeing people who are trapped in their cars.
“I’ve seen way too many young kids drunk who rolled their car at high speed with no seatbelts, and with all their friends in the car,” Daniel Johnson said. “And it just ruins three or four families.”
The ambulance crews also get calls for everyday household accidents and injuries, but even those can be life threatening.
“We had an elderly gentleman who’d had a ground-level fall and hit his head,” Kinniman said. “He said he didn’t want to go with us.”
Kinniman and his partner told him that they didn’t feel comfortable with him not being fully checked out at a hospital.
“He finally decided to go to the hospital, and when we got there it turned out he had bleeding on the brain and had to be flown to Redding for neurosurgery,” Kinniman said.
Daniel Johnson said, “That’s one of the people who more than likely would have been dead by morning if he hadn’t gone to the hospital.”
The ambulance crews work a 72-hour shift – three days straight – each week. They’re ready to head out within 90 seconds of being called at any time of day or night.
They also get walk-ups at their base next to the K’ima:w Medical Center in Hoopa, and at their other base just east of Willow Creek. On days when the clinic is closed, the ambulance crews are often the only medical care available within fifty miles.
“We get people who just walk up to the door, or they get driven here and dropped off,” Daniel Johnson said. “We get everything from people who just rolled a truck and got pulled out of the wreck, to people who got a bee sting three days ago.”
Rod Johnson said that the K’ima:w ambulance crews end up with a lot more experience than typical EMTs or paramedics in city ambulances, and they need it.
“Out here, you’re not 10 minutes from the hospital,” Rod Johnson said. “You could be an hour or two in the back with a critical patient.”