Emergency medical services are important and necessary to all communities. Towns, rural and metropolitan, rely on emergency responders to answer the call of service when and where needed. Firefighters, ambulance drivers and crews, Air Link crews, police officers, EMRs, EMTs, advanced EMTs, paramedics and others serve in the needed area of immediate and emergency medical care in the field. They are the action response to 911 calls.
A local U.S. Navy veteran has served in emergency medical services over two decades, both as an EMT and a paramedic. His name is Ken Boston, long-time resident of Banner County. Ken is now the Emergency Medical Services program director at Western Nebraska Community College (WNCC). Boston has many responsibilities in his new role and position.
“I am responsible for the instruction of EMT students, paramedic students, oversight of the program, insuring that everything is being done that needs to be done to meet the requirements of our accrediting body as well as academic practices, and that quality education is being provided by the college for the students,” Boston said.
As director of the program, Boston also teaches classes. One of several teachers in the program, Boston instructs students in paramedicine in preparation to become paramedics.
“I love to teach,” he said.
This instruction includes defining paramedic. A paramedic is an advanced level emergency care provider, not the most advanced level, but advanced, Boston said.
"We have at our disposal a full range of cardiac drugs. We can intubate patients if needed, start IVs, do pain management, and other things within the scope of our certification.”
A lot of what a paramedic does is what a patient would receive at a hospital, at least initially. Paramedics can begin basic hospital treatment in the back of an ambulance.
“We’re basically bringing a lot of what would happen in a hospital for a patient in the back of an ambulance,” Boston said. “We’re bringing this advanced level of care out into the field to provide the best care possible for people in a pre-hospital setting. I’ve seen everything from minor injuries to life-threatening medical situations.”
Some emergency medical calls are quite difficult, all are hard. Those who respond to these situations find some encounters more trying than others.
“The most challenging thing in paramedicine for me is anything with kids, pediatrics,” Boston said. “Pediatrics have different vital signs, their bodies are not the same as ours, they’re smaller, more susceptible to trauma. For instance, if a pediatric (patient) is experiencing shock for some reason, they will compensate, look fine and seem to be doing fine, but then crash.”
While paramedicine has challenges, it also has joys. Each paramedic may find joy in a different part or aspect of the job.
“I love going to where someone is at a point of need, and sometimes, it’s a person’s worst day, going there and providing medical care and helping them with their pain and correcting things we can correct in the field and delivering them safely to the emergency room,” Boston said. “I also find joy in providing emotional support because very often death of a loved one is involved. It’s satisfying to meet people’s needs.”
Boston also enjoys seeing his students learn, grow and graduate the program at the college. It’s exciting to see a student grasp and apply what’s taught — that “I get it” and “I see you getting it” moment.
“Watching the light bulbs come on one at a time in the students with the realization they’ve got it, I love that,” Boston said.
Most, it not all, paramedics or anyone in emergency medical care and services, must emotionally decompress after a situation, especially a traumatic situation. Each responder may deal with personal emotions in a different way.
“This job definitely takes a toll. One thing I do beyond the support that my faith provides, which is significant, is do my best to talk to people or speak with other providers who were on the scene,” Boston said. “It’s amazing how much support we provide for one another after a particularly difficult call. There’s also available helpful and structured debriefings if needed to help you work through what you’ve experienced.”
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“Recognize the process of becoming a paramedic is not easy; it’s not an easy road. There’s a great deal of study and over 600 hours of clinical time. You must demonstrate competency before being sent out into the field,” Boston said. “Recognize the gold patch that is the emblem of a nationally-registered paramedic is only a license to learn. You don’t know what it’s like to be one until you’re out there doing it. It takes time to learn the skills and hone the skills. The gold patch is just the beginning.”
The Navy prepared Boston for becoming both a paramedic and a director of emergency medical services at WNCC in specific ways. Many veterans say the military helped them in life. Boston cruised ocean depths aboard a nuclear ballistic missile submarine – a ‘Boomer,’ where he learned a lot about himself and life.
“I learned to be responsible for things a lot bigger than myself,” he said. “I was doing really big things on a nuclear submarine, at least I thought they were big (certified conventional weapons supervisor, nuclear weapons handling supervisor, a number of certifications, including qualifications in submarines), and I grew up. The Navy taught me how to work hard and apply myself, and that has applied to every facet of my life, including the position I have now. The foundation I stand on today came from my experience in the Navy.”
His service in the Navy prepared him for him for his current position in yet another way — the ability to navigate ever-evolving and fluid situations to fulfill a mission. Boston's present mission as director has changed and evolved due to COVID-19.
“We are now doing all of our teaching online, which for paramedics requires face-to-face contact hours,” he said. “We’re doing this online just like we would in class, and going to continue this for the rest of the academic year so that we’re practicing social distancing and to lower the risk of students contracting and passing COVID-19 to family or friends. COVID-19 has basically moved the entire college off-campus; it’s had a huge impact.”
From a nuclear submarine to the surface in disciplines like paramedicine and, now, directing the emergency medical services program at WNCC, Boston has spent a life of serving others.