Wake Forest EMS Deserves a Kiss on the Lips

Here in beautiful Wake Forest, North Carolina there are a number of people that keep us safe. We have the Wake Forest Police Department, Wake Forest Fire Department, and then there are those Wake County EMS ambulances driving around. Sometimes they feel like an afterthought, the stepchild of emergencies.

If you’ve relocated from another part of the country you might be used to the ambulance service either being a basic barebones private ambulance service or part of the local fire department.

But here EMS is provided by Wake County and is separate from the fire departments, even though the fire departments have EMTs and paramedics on their trucks as well.

EMS even has their own stations and they don’t live with the fire department folks. But based on a recent tour of our Wake Forest EMS station 10, they might want to rent a room at the fire department for more luxurious accommodations.

We have to give a giant sombrero hat tip to Wake EMS, District Chief Jeff Hammerstein, and the guys at the Wake Forest EMS station 10 that let us waste two hours of their time to teach us a tremendous amount about what they do.

You should keep reading this article to learn all about them but if your bathroom break is over and you’ve got to head back to work, here is the most important take away, if you have a medical emergency, Wake County is the place to do it because they take this stuff seriously and will do just about anything to save your sorry butt.

Wake EMS appears to have three primary critical layers. The first would be the tremendous amount of education and administrative support the EMTs and paramedics get. Second would be the quality of the equipment they are issued, and finally would be the medical technology that bridges the gap between the old dude who fell and can’t get up and a world class emergency room in the Triangle area. As cool as their tech is you’d think they truly put the blue in bluetooth, not code blue.

And then there is the Wake County EMS Medical Director, Brent Myers, MD, who I think everyone in the system has a man crush on. From what people say, this guy has played a major role in making Wake County EMS a truly world class group.

The Crew

Some of the unsung heroes have the be the frontline EMS staff. Most of us see the fire department and police department making a grand entrance, and then the EMS crew just appears on the scene to ask you if you take Viagra.

Paramedic Jason Wells (L) and EMT Robert Johnson (R)
Paramedic Jason Wells (Left) and EMT Robert Johnson (Right). It you look at the back of your computer monitor Paramedic will read the right way on your screen. We asked for the Captain Morgan pose and they delivered.

As you will learn though, there are many behind the scene heroes who collectively will impress the hell out of you once you know how they work together as a team to rescue you.

The Wake Forest EMS Station 10

Wake County EMS Station 10
Wake County EMS Station 10

The Wake Forest EMS station on South Franklin Street looks impressive from the outside but inside it’s pretty barebones. We had college dorm rooms that were more stylish than this place.

Where they live or a This End Up furniture museum.
Where they live or a This End Up furniture museum. Sure looks like 1994, doesn’t it?

The living area could use a non-paramedic touch. In fact some local Wake Forest group might want to think about doing a “We Love You” decorating donation to their space.

The sleeping are is more like a Motel 3. They won't even leave the light on for you.
The sleeping area is more like a Motel 3. They won’t even leave the light on for you.

Even the sleeping area could use a little sprucing up. The station is like a bald mullet, all business up front and all business in the back. No party to be found anywhere.

Our impression is the inside of the building is built for utility. Sit here, eat here, sleep here, and park the truck over there.

What They Really Do

Da box.
Da box.
Paramedic Jason Wells summed up the probable general impression local residents have of what EMS does.

Wells said, “The back of metal box rolling down the road is a mystery unless you’ve been a guest of honor.” He’s right, most people never have the need to ride in the back of an ambulance and be rushed to the hospital to be the new proud owner of a giant ambulance bill. Yes, Wake County will bill you for transport.

emsfund_coverDon’t learn this lesson the hard way like we did. Wake County residents can join the Wake County Rescue Squad EMS Fund and for a flat rate of only $60 per year, every member of your house is covered for emergency medical transport.

If you don’t have this subscription, don’t be surprised to get a $900 bill for every ambulance trip. You know once you subscribe you’ll never need an ambulance but that would just be a bonus.

In the Wake Forest area, when you call 9-1-1 with a heart attack emergency, don’t be surprised to have a fire truck, police car, and EMS all show up knocking at your door. They all come running when you need help.

Wells said the EMS department had a very close relationship with the Wake Forest Fire Department but thought they were “pansy waisted sissies.” Yea, he really never said that, we are just stirring the pot to see if you are still reading. He was genuinely really proud to work side-by-side with them.

EMS plops driver of Accord on stretcher. Firefighter supervises.
EMS, Wake Forest Police Department, and Wake Forest Fire Department all working a recent accident scene.

The guys brought up a perfectly logical description why it is beneficial for there to be a separate EMS department outside of the fire department. “If you have someone having chest pain and a house fire drops at the same time, which takes priority,” asked Wells. With the dual roles played by the two departments, the answer seems obvious, they both get equal attention with EMS rushing to the heart attack and the fire department dealing with the structure fire.

“Our sole mission at EMS is health and well-being,” added Wells. Johnson nodded, he’s the silent one of the pair.

But Johnson did add some distinction to what is truly an emergency. He observed determining what is an emergency to you has to be left up to the individual. “What is an emergency to Joe Snuffy may not be an emergency to you,” Johnson added, “If it’s an emergency to you and you decide you need to call 9-1-1, we’re there for you and take care of you.”

When asked about the emotional stress of the job and if it dragged them down, Johnson said, “If I wanted to be morbid all day long I would have put on a dark suit and worked at a funeral home.” It’s a good thing they wear bright colors then. You might want to look at the color of your pants. Just sayin’.

What About the Other EMS Crews

All the different crews in Wake County who deliver EMS care are all trained the same way. “It’s doesn’t matter what the name is on the side of the box, you are going to get the same care,” said Wells.

He added that Wake Forest residents should not be surprised to see an Eastern Wake EMS squad rolling up to their home at times. They might have just been passing through the area but the GPS based dispatch system will route the nearest ambulance to you, regardless of where they park the truck at night. Good to know.

Other departments that are part of the Wake County EMS system include Apex EMS, Cary EMS, Garner EMS, and Six Forks EMS.

There are also times that both truck 10 and 33, which are stationed here in Wake Forest, are out on runs. In that case another floater EMS crew will come into our area and wait for any additional emergency call.

It’s not unusual for the backup crew to sit and wait someplace along Capital Blvd which gives them quick access no matter where they are dispatched to in the area.

This is why us Wake Forest Nutters (residents) are urged to NEVER take an emergency patient to the EMS building on South Franklin Street. It’s quite possible there are no trucks in the building but they sitting out someplace in the area waiting for the next call. We are thinking Sonic would be a great place to sit and wait.

From the screen in Truck 10 you can see the location of the truck, the Wake Forest coverage area, and the location of the local hospitals.
From the screen in Truck 10 you can see the location of the truck, the Wake Forest coverage area, and the location of the local hospitals. Click on the picture to get a better view.

As you can see above, here in Wake Forest we have a choice of different hospitals we can go to. Franklin has one in their county and you’d have to go to Oxford for Granville County.

The Wake EMS policy is they will transport you to any hospital in any county that touches Wake County, with the exception of UNC Chapel Hill which is located in Orange County and does not abut Wake. They will haul your broken butt there as well.

Generally though they will direct you to the nearest hospital that can provide the most advanced care based on your medical situation. If they say it doesn’t matter where you go, you’re probably going to live, no problem.

Best Hospital Food in the Area

nutterbutter_smallEMS gets to visit all the area hospitals so we felt compelled to ask which hospital had the best food. While all the emergency rooms were applauded for the snacks, Nutter Butters, Chewy Bars, and drinks they have on hand for busy paramedics and EMTs, Rex Hospital was thumbs up for their cafeteria food and the guys would have nominated them for best hospital cafeteria around if we’d let them.

Knowing that however, don’t let that be the sole selection for which hospital you want to be transported to.

Where Are the Helicopters?

Because of the fast response and capabilities of our local EMS they said requesting a helicopter to come and transport a patient was not necessary the vast majority of the time. “I can be by ground to a local trauma center faster than a helicopter can come and take you, “Jason said.

Typically the only time you’ll see a helicopter descending from the sky to take a patient to the hospital is when an accident is so severe the amount of time it takes to extract the injured party become excessive and the helicopter has enough time to get there and land to wait for the patient. A recent example was the 2011 accident in Rolesville where three died. The fourth student was flown by helicopter after about a 75 minute extraction from the badly damaged wreck.

Get Out of the Way But Don’t Panic

Certainly one frustration EMS must have is trying to get down the road with lights and sirens on and people just not pulling over to the right to let them through.

Surprisingly they had a slightly different point of view on this than we would have had. Ours would have been “get out of the damn way” but obviously they’ve thought about this subject quite a bit.

Robert said, “There is a decision process civilian drivers have to make. They have to find the ambulance and find the safest way to pull over and they have to worry about other motorists trying to do the same thing. Whereas we are already going hot to trot and ready to go so it’s faster for us to maneuver around you than it is for you to maneuver around us.”

He added the best advice, “Don’t panic. We’ll find a way around you if you can’t get fully out of the way.”

We wondered if it was tougher to get to one hospital versus another with traffic building in the area, “not with lights and sirens,” they said. Yea, good point. Point for Robert.

Sometimes they need to be creative as they race down the road. They can do things like head down the wrong side of Capital Blvd or go through red lights, but in order to do that they have to be acutely aware they are driving the ambulance in a manner that is safe and prudent. If it is found they did not exercise “due regard” and did not operate in a logical and commonsense way, they may face an administrative intervention and worse, personal liability. Yikes.

Be Patient With the Dispatcher

Admittedly we never thought much about the EMS process from the start of the 9-1-1 call. That typically seems to be a frantic “send an ambulance” request but Wake dispatchers have some medical training and comprehensive guides to follow for different situations. In fact, even as the EMS truck is racing to you, the dispatcher is transmitting text updates to them with additional information so they can be better prepared to care for you on arrival.

The frustrating calls they described as the “non-player” variety. These are the people that hang up without providing much information. Sometimes people actually refuse to answer the dispatcher questions and just get frustrated.

So the start of emergency medical care begins long before the screaming white box arrives in your driveway. It begins the moment you finish dialing 9-1-1.

TIP: If you live near a county line and dial 9-1-1 on your mobile phone, don’t be surprised if the neighboring county answers. Your signal just bounced off the wrong tower. The best thing to do is request to be transferred to a Wake dispatcher so you don’t waste time repeating yourself.

The JDLR Call

We learned all about what the guys called a JDLR call. These calls come in infrequently but EMS crews have to be aware that not every call is what it appears to be. For example, when they get dispatched on a call and roll up to the house and not a single light is on and something seems amiss, they said it’s a JDLR, “just don’t look right.”

Responding EMS needs to be aware of their safety when rolling up. Even the local EMS crews have run into some odd situations like the bizarre case when a knife is pulled or shotgun appears. They said guns concern them because they don’t know where you keep your guns, but you do.

This is also another reason why EMS is not running to your front door. Not only does it give them a moment to evaluate the situation but you don’t want them arriving all out of breath and hearts racing anyway, leaving their hands shaking. If they are going to stick a needle in you, probably best to not have the hands shaking.

If something isn’t looking right when they wail up to your house, EMS might just sit tight and wait for Wake Forest Police to arrive and help check out the situation.

They are Begging You

The primary request the guys wanted us to pass along to you was, “please, please, please, we are begging you, put numbers on your house or mailbox we can see from the road at night.” That is unless you really want to die.

A couple of other tips they shared to keep in mind are to:

  • put a list of medications you take on your refrigerator;
  • if there is a do not resuscitate (DNR) order for the sick party, keep that on your fridge as well;
  • as you wait for the ambulance, put all the medications in a bag or have them all handy in one place;
  • if you have a lengthy and complicated medical history have it written down;
  • if you have dogs, cats, or any pets, lock them up before emergency personnel arrive; and,
  • if you have someone who can keep an eye on young kids, get the kids out of the way so they don’t get freaked out by the paramedics and activity. “Don’t just lock them in the closet,” they said. Good to know.
I got your nose!
Jason shows us the special paramedic “I got your nose” trick to distract kids.

So that made us wonder if disorganized hoarders had a lower chance of survival as the EMS guys tried to find all the information they needed. “Trust us, we’ll find it or soldier on,” they said.

On dogs, they said they’ve had plenty of people who say they don’t need to worry about dogs because they don’t bite. “We have to remind them, the dog doesn’t bit YOU. You feed the dog, brush the dog, you take the dog for a walk. When you are sick and strange people are in the house fussing about you, the dogs notice.”

A Tour of Truck 10

By this point of the interview Wells and Johnson were probably pretty sick of us sitting there and asking a couple of moving boxes full of silly questions. But we persisted regardless.

As you can see below Johnson was already glassy eyed and Wells was ready to tell us to take better notes.

Don't make me repeat myself again.
Don’t make me repeat myself again.

While most of the stuff that happens in the back is serious and professional we think there might be a little room for cheap thrills on the way to a ride with all the swaying and bouncing the back of the ambulance does.

Hitting speed bumps in this thing must be a special event. But people with dislocated shoulders or broken hips don’t think the bouncing around back there is special at all.


We spotted this pairing in the garage. One of the things below is a life saving device and compressed gas, the other is not. It’s an ambulance defibrillator.

That's not a defibrillator is it?
That’s not a human defibrillator is it?

Not kidding. A broom and an oxygen bottle.
Not kidding. A broom and an oxygen bottle.
The crews carry a lot of equipment with them. Not only do they have the broom and giant oxygen bottle on the ambulance but when they arrive for their shift they are responsible for placing their personal gear on the truck as well.

Each member has a personal bag which contains things they don’t use all the time but need, like helmets, gas masks, a selection of jackets and an EMS jock strap. Okay, maybe not the jock strap but hell, everything else seems to be in there.

It is seriously like a virtual Wake County EMS fashion show with all the stuff that comes out of the bag.

If you could ever need it on an EMS call, someone smart already thought about whatever it was, determined a place it would be on every EMS truck in the county, and bought the best thing it is.

All my stuff I carry.
All my stuff I carry.

Even a “doomsday box” is on board. This box contains the secret antidotes for poisons and other chemical attacks. Too bad they don’t carry a couple syringes of “can’t we get along” for an emergency call at the State Senate as republicans bicker with democrats.

Frankly we had never considered the need to carry chemical weapon threat antidotes but then again that’s why we are not with EMS and writing this article instead. If you need a solution for a dangerous link, we are the place to go for that. But if you are the victim of a cyanide attack, call 9-1-1.

The Doomsday Box
The Doomsday Box

The pediatric bag shown below is damn clever. The basic supplies are sectioned off in smaller bags of a certain color based on the size of the child. As one EMT or paramedic measures the child they call out what color bag will be needed. This way they don’t have to fish around for the right sized needles and tubes.

That’s the kind of brainiac prior planning we want EMS to have.

Kids emergency kit.
Kids emergency kit.

The trucks are equipped with the coolest technology which allows monitoring information to be fed into the onboard laptop which can be transmitted to the hospital and stored in case they have to come pick you up again.

Wired and ready for anything but can't surf the web.
Wired and ready for anything but can’t surf the web.

The sophistication of the equipment on board is impressive. For example, this little box can do a bunch of stuff and knows things about you that you don’t even know, like if you’ve been breathing smoke. It probably knows what you did in college that one sorry weekend, as well.

After a long time of getting a crash course in everything EMS the guys were certainly done with us. Here is Robert Wells on the left asking if we’ve coded or fallen asleep in the back of truck 10. “If so, thank goodness, the interview is over.”

Sorry, you don't appear to have a pulse.
Damn, that reporter still has a pulse.

2 thoughts on “Wake Forest EMS Deserves a Kiss on the Lips”

  1. i had a drug overdose a month ago and EMS station 10 saved my life. my heart stopped beating and they resuscitated me. i spent 2 days on life support and left the hospital 3 days later. now i have 35 days with no drugs! thank you EMS station 10

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