When emergencies strike, we often take for granted that we can pick up our phone and expect help to arrive. Being an emergency responder requires quick-thinking, compassion and a dedication to serving others.
One such person is Jimmy Day, who retired as Atascosa County EMS Director. He was honored on Dec. 2 at a celebration in Poteet, hosted by Atascosa County Emergency Medical Services personnel.
Day was born in New Mexico, where he lived until about the age of 9. His family then moved to Oklahoma, where Day lived until his early 30s.
“We bought a business in Cotulla, with the idea of rebuilding it and making a good profit, selling it and then going back to Oklahoma,” said Day. “We turned it into a working business, ran it for about five years and then we sold it. By that time, I was acclimated to Texas and we just stayed.”
Day received an offer from the EMS director in La Salle County. He offered to pay for Jimmy’s school if he would help. So Jimmy took him up on the offer.
“I never had worked in the medical field before, but, I got into school and realized I really liked it.”
Day returned to college and finished paramedic school in Laredo. Then, the job came up in Atascosa County for an EMS Director. It was 1994 when Day applied, interviewed and was chosen for the position.
“I bought the property that I’m living on right now about a week before I actually went to work here, so I’ve been in the same place with the same job since ‘94.”
Day shared how the EMS system as it is known today really did not begin until the early 1970s in the U.S. It was patterned after the military transport and treatment used in the field in Vietnam.
“President Nixon started it and he had the Department of Transportation and a couple of other government agencies set criteria to unify EMS care across the U.S. Although the system we have now has far progressed from that, that is where it started,” Day explained.
In 1974, Poteet filed for Articles of Corporation for Poteet EMS. Soon after that, Pleasanton and Lytle followed suit. “Atascosa County had three EMS departments, all separate from one another and all volunteer. They were partially funded by the county and partially funded by their own collections.”
Bryan Crouch served as EMS director part-time, but he had other jobs, such as jail administrator.
“The county decided that they needed a little more unification, so they opted to hire a full time director. Those three stations were accumulated together and made up Atascosa County EMS.”
During the first few years, Atascosa County EMS was still all volunteer. It was difficult to keep up, as they had full-time jobs and their own lives. Anything they could donate to serve in the community was a blessing, said Day. However, EMS could not rely on part-time schedules.
“You need rescuers there all the time. That is generally what we were headed toward and working toward and finally achieved, was full time staff, working nights and weekends. Then we gradually worked into three stations, added Poteet and then four stations, adding Jourdanton.”
Currently, there are two crews working in each station, covering every day, 24 hours a day. The areas are north, southeast, southwest and central, all covered with full time stations.
“Of course, technology has changed. Education has changed and so have requirements on what paramedics have to know.”
What can be done in the back of an ambulance has also expanded.
“The paramedic that I was when I first got out of college, is nothing like what you have to be now. Of course, you are required every year to put in continued education and to keep up with the new things and all that. You have to show proof before you renew your license, so it’s not like you’ve got an older paramedic that doesn’t know what they are doing.”
“We have a great medical director and he lets us work like we are trained to work, which is fortunate for us. Aside from lab and X-ray, we can do just about everything in the back of that ambulance that they can do in the ER now, since the American Heart Association got in this and started teaching advanced cardiac life support and things like that.”
With medication, machines and other innovations, the patient starts getting advanced care as soon as that ambulance arrives. Atascosa County is a large county and if someone is picked up at the far end of the county, noted Day, they could be 30-40 minutes from the hospital.
“That is a long time to wait when you are in dire straits. So, with the application of a great hospital and medicine the way it is now, they don’t have to wait. And you will actually see the hospital doing or continuing the things we started in the ambulance.”
Day said that while he is terrible with remembering names, he can remember a call– what EMS did, what was said and what was wrong with the patient. In over 30 years, he has seen so much.
“It’s all there, and I really don’t dwell on any one incident. But when a reference pops up, I don’t have trouble remembering. If I treated you, or you were my patient, I’ll remember what was going on with you and what we did.”
Day also shared that statistics show that over half the people that get in the medical field in pre-hospital medicine won’t stay past five years.
“That is a lot of turnover. So it’s not like they’ll go from being a paramedic to being a nurse, to being a PA. They drop out and they never go back to medicine at all. That tells you that there’s a lot of head stuff going on.”
Many times people in this field ask how they can stand to watch any more evil and suffering, Day said. During instruction, students will ask him how he deals with it all.
“When you see something, well, yeah, you hurt. You want to cry, yeah you want to be angry, but you have to ask yourself… any minute now, in the next however many hours I am on, there could be another tone and somebody is going to be having their worst day. If you don’t have your head straight, and you’re not presentable and compassionate, how are you going to help them?”
Each patient is looking for a rescuer- someone to listen to them and help them.
“That’s kind of how I get around it. I don’t know how other people cope with it. I’ve seen people that I work with, when the officers were killed, you’re right in the middle of that and you see people that you know and work with, but when you are done with that call and your ambulance is cleaned up and re-stocked, somebody else is going to call. They don’t deserve to have someone that’s more bummed than they are.”
He said situations involving children are the hardest ones.
“They are innocent. They don’t know what’s going on. They can’t explain to you how they feel. It is a real guessing game and you’ve really got to look at a lot of signs and symptoms and decide what they need.”
Thursday, Nov. 30 marked Jimmy’s last day as EMS Director. He was also honored at Atascosa County Commissioner’s Court on Monday, Nov. 27.
Jimmy has been married to Gloria Day for 22 years. Gloria has three children and he has two. They have a music ministry and are also pastors at The Servants Quarters in Jourdanton. Jimmy reflected on the help from others throughout the years.
“I feel like we’ve built a good EMS system, not that it couldn’t be better and not that it doesn’t need to grow and change. It is always going to need to grow and change, but… I think with the leaders of this community that I have seen over the years, somebody, whoever it is, whether it was me or somebody else, somebody would have built this system anyway.
“It’s not like I accomplished something that nobody else could do. That’s not true. Almost anybody with their head on straight that cares about the people of this community could have built this EMS system to where it is. I’ve had a lot of help from leaders, from people in the community, people donating land for us to put a station on, people donating equipment and labor to help us build, I’ve had a lot of help. I’ve been fortunate in that I was offered this job in the first place. It’s not like they went looking and they went in the bucket and they found the best they could find and pulled that out, that’s not so. I was fortunate to get this position and get this job and have the opportunity to do what we’ve done.”
He marvelled at how much it has grown. His first budget was $117,000 and today their budget is over $2 million.
“I think a lot of times the community does not know what they’ve been given, what the judges and the commissioners over the years have given. I know other counties our size that struggle and they are looking for answers, and not that we’re not looking for ways to improve, but I know some counties that are having a really rough time trying to accomplish the same thing and they are beginning where we began.”
He is thankful for progressive leaders and the community’s assistance. For example, a private group raised the funds to build the Jourdanton station.
“The county didn’t have to build the station and the property and that building was given to the city, so it belongs to Jourdanton but the county will use it. It was built for that specific reason, and I trust that is what it will continue to be used for. We’ve already been in that building 11 years.”
Day said he plans to keep working, just not in the EMS field.
“I’ve had a construction company, so I do a little bit of remodeling and I’ve built furniture and custom pieces and stuff like that, so I’ll still do that.”
Day said his biggest reward is being able to help people.
“You see them when they are at their worst moment and you give them some relief. When you watch TV… everybody comes to the ER and it is a big deal and they all live, that’s just not the nature of it, really. It is rare that you get somebody that you actually pull back from death, but it happens. It does happen and on the other end of it, you deliver a baby, you start a brand new life. So, just being able to be the one that shows up to help is probably the biggest reward.”