WBEZ | paramedic http://www.wbez.org/tags/paramedic Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Veteran Chicago paramedics reflect on 38 years of saving lives http://www.wbez.org/news/veteran-chicago-paramedics-reflect-38-years-saving-lives-103815 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="http://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F67532804&amp;show_artwork=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Back in 1974, a couple of twenty-something adrenaline junkies both saw the same ad in the newspaper. The City of Chicago was hiring for a position with the job title &quot;para medics.&quot;&nbsp;</p><p>That&#39;s how Tony Scipione and Gunther Kettenbeil became part of the first paramedic crews in the city. They&#39;ve been at it ever since &ndash;&nbsp;until this week when they retired after 38 years on the job.</p><p>When the two started in the mid &#39;70s, most people had never even heard the term &lsquo;paramedic.&rsquo; People relied on private ambulances or ill-equipped responders from the fire department. The system was so primitive that Kettenbeil had to bring his own stethoscope&nbsp;and blood pressure cuff to work. Firefighters scoffed at the equipment and called it his &quot;bag of tricks.&quot;</p><p>Scipione said emergency responders were mostly making it up as they went along.</p><p>&ldquo;At that time firemen were only carrying in oxygen tanks and maybe a couple roller bandages stuffed into their pocket,&rdquo; Scipione said. &ldquo;We didn&rsquo;t have a lot of equipment. Either we didn&rsquo;t have it, or it was nonexistent at the time. There were many of the ambulances that were just Cadillac Ambulances if you were lucky, or a station wagon.&rdquo;</p><p>Once, Scipione showed up for a shift and instead of an ambulance or station wagon, all they had for him was a sedan.&nbsp;Just put the patients in the backseat, he was told. Kettenbeil said city hospitals weren&rsquo;t sure what to expect from the new paramedics either.</p><p>&quot;They were so worried things would not work right they had nurses ride with us for a week just to to make sure that these single role medics knew what to do,&quot; Kettenbeil said.<br />&nbsp;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="Gunther Kettenbeil" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/gunther_kettenbeil.JPG" style="height: 207px; width: 310px; margin: 10px; float: right;" title="Gunther Kettenbeil retired this week after 38 years as a paramedic and firefighter in Chicago. He was part of the first paramedic crew the city hired in 1974. (Tricia Bobeda/WBEZ)" /></div><p>Since then, the job has changed dramatically &ndash;&nbsp;from station wagon backseats to high-tech ambulances &ndash;&nbsp;but one thing has remained the same: EMS workers still often put their own lives on the line to save others.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t think there&rsquo;s a paramedic on this job now that hasn&rsquo;t risked their lives and been in a situation where it was a close call,&rdquo; Kettenbeil said.</p><p>Scipione remembers one particularly harrowing night during a snowstorm, when he responded to&nbsp;a car accident on Lake Shore Drive.</p><p>&ldquo;I positioned the ambulance in such a way so that people would see it,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Or so I thought.&rdquo;</p><p>He and his partner took two injured people into the ambulance. Scipione headed back to the car.</p><p>As he checked on the driver, Scipione noticed a car approaching from the corner of his eye.</p><p>&ldquo;And I thought -- I don&rsquo;t think this person can see us,&rdquo; Scipione said. &ldquo;And I&rsquo;ll tell you, if I didn&rsquo;t jump in on that woman&rsquo;s lap, I would be dead. Because he literally took off the door of the automobile as he went past.&rdquo;</p><p>The driver, blinded by the snow, skidded to a stop. Everyone survived.</p><p>&ldquo;But I remember my partner sticking her head out the window saying &lsquo;Tony, what was all that noise?&rsquo; As my heart was going 240, thinking I just almost lost my life,&rdquo; Scipione said. &ldquo;And the women in the car (was) looking at me like &lsquo;What the hell are you doing?&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Scipione said it wasn&rsquo;t uncommon for paramedics to encounter all kinds of dangerous situations in the early days.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve been shot at,&rdquo; Scipione said. &ldquo;I&rsquo;ve been chased with knives.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;Held hostage,&rdquo; Kettenbeil added. &ldquo;I&rsquo;ve been held hostage, shot at on both sides (of the job), the firefighter and paramedic side.&rdquo;</p><p>But no matter how tough the neighborhood, when they got a call that someone&rsquo;s grandmother was having a heart attack or a kid was having an asthma attack, they were almost always given space to do their jobs.</p><p>Scipione said responding to emergencies all over Chicago&nbsp;&ndash;&nbsp;from projects like Cabrini-Green to the highest-priced condos in the city &ndash;&nbsp;made him realize something early on.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re all the same,&rdquo; Scipione said. &ldquo;Doesn&rsquo;t matter where you come from. We all have the same hopes and dreams and wishes.&rdquo;</p><p>When they started, there were only about 20 ambulances in the city. There&rsquo;s more than triple that amount now.&nbsp;Scipione said less Chicago residents are dying from asthma attacks, strokes and even gunshot wounds thanks to better technology, medications and training for EMS workers.</p><p>But the hours haven&#39;t changed. It&#39;s still a grueling 24-hour shift, where paramedics are lucky to get a lunch break.</p><p>&ldquo;Lot of times we would have food on the go,&rdquo; Kettenbeil said. &ldquo;I learned to put everything on a sandwich, including spaghetti. Eating was on the way to the next call.&rdquo;</p><p>After a stressful day of work, most folks have the option of stopping off at a bar. But paramedics get off work at 8 a.m., so Scipione said they would often blow off steam over breakfast.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Everybody would talk about what they saw, just talk about it to get it out,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Because you know if you tried to go home and tell your wife...they didn&rsquo;t understand what we were saying. Where you could talk to another paramedic and they knew where you were coming from. One minute, you&rsquo;re dealing with bringing life into the world. The next minute, you&rsquo;re dealing with somebody dying.&rdquo;</p><p>Despite starting out together, the pioneering paramedics worked apart for most of their careers. Then six years ago, Scipione was reassigned to a firehouse on the Northwest side.&nbsp;When he showed up, there was his old pal, Kettenbeil.</p><p>It only seemed natural that they should retire together. Their final shift was November 12, the same day they started in the department back in 1974.</p><p>&ldquo;Gunther had a whole head of red hair and I had a whole head of black hair that we don&rsquo;t have anymore,&rdquo; Scipione laughed. &ldquo;Things change a little bit. Got a little bit older, a little bit wiser.&rdquo;</p><p>Scipione said he&rsquo;s a little nervous about retirement.</p><p>&ldquo;I really believe that the feeling that I&rsquo;m feeling today... is exactly the same feeling that I felt the day I was hired,&rdquo; Scipione said. &ldquo;The excitement, the uncertainty of not knowing (what&rsquo;s next). Because I don&rsquo;t know.&rdquo;</p><p>But Kettenbeil said he knows what&rsquo;s next. He and his wife are going fishing.</p></p> Thu, 15 Nov 2012 10:45:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/veteran-chicago-paramedics-reflect-38-years-saving-lives-103815