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Chris Baber retires after 35 years as EMS Director

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Chris Baber has served the community as an Emergency Medical Technician for 37 years.

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Chris Baber has served the community as an Emergency Medical Technician for 37 years.

Editor’s Note: A reception honoring Chris Baber and fellow EMT Ron Riley, who served as a Greeley County EMT for 40 years, is scheduled for this Saturday, February 4, from 5-6 p.m. at the Greeley County 4-H Building. 
After serving 35 years as the Greeley County Ambulance Director, Chris Baber’s last day as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) was December 31, 2022. 
Countless changes have shaped the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) in nearly four decades and Baber, whose primary job was as a long-time K-12 physical education teacher at Greeley County Schools, has had a front-row seat to many of them. 
Though she wasn’t a member of the founding EMS squad, their work and initiative provided a strong start to the volunteer-driven, two-ambulance system the county benefits from today.
Greeley County EMS was founded after a devastating harvest accident involving local residents in 1973. Dr. Warner met with long-time nurse Glenna Farmer to see if a few local citizens would be willing to respond to emergencies. Those first few, which included Bill Gentry, Bill Engel, Luther Keith, and Don and Velma Farmer, signed up to help. They took a First Aid class and using Dr. Warner’s station wagon, they responded when called. An old door from the clinic served as their spine board. 
As soon as possible, those early first-responders took an EMT class and in 1975, Greeley County EMS was officially born.  
Baber took an EMS class in 1985. Her college minor was in biology and she was required to have continuing education credits for her teaching license renewal. Taking the course would satisfy the requirements.
“I never had any intention of doing the ambulance,” Baber said. “I just took the class because we live eight miles out in the country and my husband is a farmer. With the kind of equipment he works with, I thought it would be knowledge that would be beneficial.” 
Then she got into the class and Glenna said, “We need you. We really need you.”
During her first year as an EMT, Baber became the training officer. She served as Assistant Director to Glenna for two years and became the director of EMS in 1989. She is only the second director in the program’s history. 
The first ambulance the county purchased was a van-type vehicle that was kept in a bay connected to Helmwood Nursing home (now Greeley County Long Term Care.)
As Baber holds two fingers about an inch apart, she recalled the headaches of that particular location.
“Those doors were about this much wider than your mirrors,” she said. “You had to be perfect. We lost mirrors and painted lines – anything to help us get in and out. Meanwhile, the backup signal is going off and I can just imagine what the residents were thinking as they were roused from sleep at three a.m.”  
Renovations at the clinic and Helmwood did away with the former storage bay and the county’s two ambulances, the van-type and a pickup style vehicle that notoriously vapor-locked in temperatures above 83, were moved to new locations: one to the county shop and one to the paint shed at the Co-op, which is now United Plains Ag. 
“When you responded, you just took whichever ambulance was closer,” said Baber. 
At that time, the EMTs met in the basement of the courthouse, where they also stored files. 
The current building that houses both the ambulances and the community’s fire trucks was finished in 1999 and dedicated in the memory of Luther Keith, a dedicated, long-time EMT who continued to serve the county until his death. In addition to his EMS service, he also maintained the ambulances and ensured they were always clean, fueled up, and ready to go.
Chris said that one of the first frustrations during her tenure was with the phone system. When she joined the service, hospital staff would step into the back room and call EMTs at home until enough people said they would come. 
“Former Sheriff Steve Schmidt went in and asked for pagers,” Baber said. “Our original pagers came out of the Sheriff’s budget.” 
Running EMS continually became more complicated.
In the early 90s, the state began handing down regulations, including a list of items that must be carried on each ambulance. The state did not send money, just mandates. Today, that list is eight or nine pages long. 
The ambulances soon had to be inspected and licensed. 
“We went from basically a volunteer service to being made into a business,” said Baber.  “It’s kind of a universal application across the state. It doesn’t make any difference if you’re  a small volunteer service or if you have 100 paramedics working for you. It’s the same paperwork.”
The original notebook listing the details of calls was traded out for paper forms, then electronic submissions. 
“Randy Cardonell volunteered us to be a pilot county (along with Wyandotte County) for one of the early electronic submission systems,” said Chris. “We discussed what was working and what wasn’t, and by the end of the year, it was set up the way we all liked it.” 
She jokes that Randy volunteered the county for several projects, but that she appreciated his help. He handled some of the political responsibilities of the job while Chris focused on the operations and getting the ambulance service what it needed.
“Glenna always said ‘that’s taxpayer money. You don’t spend it unless you need it. It’s not what you want. It’s what we need,’” said Baber. 
Baber has strived to follow that same philosophy. Thus when a state director asked what communities’ needed, Baber spoke up. 
She told him that it was really hard to recruit people to be EMTs.
She found herself saying, “You would make a great EMT. All you have to do is spend $1,000 out of your own pocket and take a class through the college, two nights a week for four hours a night. It will take lots of weekends and you have to do rotations at the hospital. You have to pay for all that, and then you have to go and take the state written exam and the state practical exam.”
Baber had previously convinced Greeley County to reimburse its EMTs’ tuition costs. This conversation at a Southwest Kansas EMS meeting led to the creation of the statewide Education Incentive Grant, which pays a little more than 2/3s of the cost of becoming an EMT, which is now around $1,500. 
Baber also spoke of the KRAF grant, which provides funding for rural communities across the state. With the help of a KRAF grant, Unified Greeley County EMS was able to purchase Power Cots, which enable EMTs to move patients without much lifting.
Power Loads also enable the Power Cots to be loaded into the ambulances without the EMT having to load the Power Cots manually. 
The EMS service used money received after the COVID pandemic to purchase Thumpers, which perform CPR compressions in the ambulances in a more efficient and effective manner than humans can Having these devices has extended the tenure of current EMTs. 
“Ron Riley was planning to let his license expire before his last renewal,” said Baber. Because of these tools, he served additional years as an EMT.
Ron and Chris were often the “transfer team,” taking patients to or bringing them back from other hospitals in the area. 
These trips often take a half or full day, and sometimes require an overnight stay. 
“You get pretty close to that group of people that respond because you spend a lot of time riding home from transfers, when there’s not much work to be done” Baber said. “You just have to get home. Sometimes you’re eating a meal together at 3 o’clock in the morning.” 
As she reflects on her time as both an EMT and the EMS director, Baber hopes the community understands how dedicated her fellow volunteers are to the community.
“Continuing education has changed. It’s much more extensive and I don’t think people in our community realize fully what all is involved in becoming and maintaining an EMS certification,” said Baber. “It’s really the only volunteer group that has to have a certification and is probably one of the few volunteer organizations where you are making life and death decisions.”  
Though EMTs do get paid per run, it doesn’t often cover amount they would have made had they been at their regular job.
“A trip to Garden City is $52 bucks for four hours; Denver is $105 for eight,” said Baber. For Kansas City, which usually includes an overnight stay, it’s $157.50.
That often makes covering transfers a struggle, though most EMTs say it’s not about the money; if they can’t go, they can’t go.  
Baber said it’s worth noting, too, that EMS is the one volunteer organzation that makes money for the county. Generally, the service makes enough money to cover or nearly cover the cost of their annual budget. 
She is appreciative, too, of the medical directors she has worked with: Dr. Warner, Dr. Moser and Dr. Ellis. Dr. Jenkins will serve as the medical director beginning this year. 
With her retirement, the Kansas Emergency Medical Services Association’s 2004 Outstanding Service Director of the Year and six-year board member of Kansas Emergency Medical Technician Association will miss time with her fellow EMTs the most.
“I will miss the camaraderie,” Baber said. “Basically, you’re a kind of family; it’s you guys against the world.” 
Baber recalls her friendship with Karen Morrison, and appreciates the time she is still able to spend with Sara Albers, Sarah Blakely, Connie Brandl, Dennis and Malinda Lehman, Ron Riley, and others. 
While the changes Baber saw in her tenure were incredible, there has been a constant.
“It’s the dedication. There always seems to be a core group of people who are extremely dedicated and give up a tremendous amount of time,” said Baber.  
And though she will miss the time spent with her colleagues, Baber will not miss paperwork the job required.
“It is overwhelming the amount of paperwork you have to do,” she said. “We have to do the same paperwork that Kansas City metropolitan does.” 
Baber plans to continue as a substitute teacher at Greeley County Schools and find more time to visit her grandkids, who live with their parents in Kansas City and Scott City. For now, she will continue teaching Drivers’ Education and looks forward to traveling more. 

 

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