Spring Valley Ambulance Service new co-directors Lucy Drinkall, Sue Puffer and Mike Zimmer are ready to answer their pagers when their neighbors need help.
GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE Spring Valley Ambulance Service new co-directors Lucy Drinkall, Sue Puffer and Mike Zimmer are ready to answer their pagers when their neighbors need help.
Like a good neighbor, Lucy Drinkall, Mike Zimmer and Sue Puffer are there.

“I think all three of us did it for the same reason – to make sure the service works for the community. We care about our neighbors, and we want to put the family feeling back into the service,” said Drinkall, a third of the trio that is now co-directing the Spring Valley Ambulance Service. Drinkall shares the position with Zimmer and Puffer after the city’s contract with Gold Cross Ambulance out of Rochester ended on March 31.

“Most of us are local, so doing the director position with Sue and Lucy and I, we have a lot of experience and education we bring forth, and all of us have our strengths,” said Zimmer. “With a team approach, it doesn’t put it all on one person. The team can step in and help, and vice versa. With a family dynamic in the crew, the community members know that it’s somebody they know and that they’re going to take care of them.”

Puffer contributed, “There’s a community need for someone to be there.”

The new co-directors are all veteran emergency medical technicians. They’ve gotten up in the middle of the night or left Christmas dinner to answer ambulance calls.

“It’s holidays and birthdays, and the pager goes off, and you’re just sitting down to Christmas dinner. When you get back, everyone’s eaten and you just microwave a plate,” said Zimmer.

Drinkall, who became an EMT in 2001, has been with the service since 2001, joining because she wanted to volunteer in the community. She was a first responder from 1999 to 2001, and she’s been with the Ostrander Fire Department, firefighter-certified, for 18 years. She did her director of training instructor training in 2014 when former director Jim Cooper left, making her and Puffer EMT instructors. All three are CPR instructors.

Zimmer is a longtime firefighter and EMT. He’s been an EMT since 1988 and has been on the Spring Valley Ambulance Service since 2001. He had been on the City Council at that time and had just gotten off when Cooper was hired and he needed some help.

“Not long after, we sold the house and moved out to the farm, but I kept my training current, and at some point, it was decided that we didn’t live too far from town. I assumed that we lived too far out, but it wasn’t, so I came back then,” said Zimmer.

He had been on the Wykoff Fire Department the entire time he lived at the farm – 16-plus years – and remained since he moved back to Spring Valley so he has had about 22 years on the fire department.

Puffer has been an EMT for 10 years and a registered nurse at Mayo Clinic for 40 years. She joined the Spring Valley Ambulance team a decade ago because she felt that she had the availability after her daughters were grown.

“I had considered it way back when my daughter, Maureen, was little, and I had a pager for a while, but now that my kids are grown up, I’m able to be on call,” she said. “I just like taking care of patients – that’s why I’ve been doing this for so long…patient care.”

They’ve got enough miles together under their wheels that they feel very comfortable taking over where Gold Cross left off.

“It’s helped for us to be together a lot on calls…nobody has to reinvent the wheel, and most often, I know what they’re thinking,” Zimmer observed. “Things are taken care of with not a lot of extra involvement.”

“I think we’re all secure enough in our skills that we’re not afraid to speak to each other, to ask, ‘Are you sure?’ We have all had supervisory positions at our other jobs and we’re all working currently at Mayo, so we know that this is not an easy position,” Drinkall stated.

Zimmer concurred, “We can agree to disagree. We’re in a management position now where the people who were our co-workers now have to answer to us, and I think we’ve been pretty comfortable making those decisions.”

Drinkall pointed out the “agreement issues, personnel-wise or anything else, is a three-way conversation where we’re coming to an agreement and it’s dealt with by the three of us. The only time it doesn’t have to be a three-way conversation is when someone’s trying to decide if they need an intercept or need to call medical control. We try to always be on the same page.”

“Our goal is to make sure we have coverage and build the team,” Puffer pointed out. “I think we’re a good team and we all communicate well…all our experience and professionalism…we all have management experience from our other careers, so that will help solidify what’s going on.”

Signing on to be the neighbors who are there has been rewarding – they’ve gotten to know people who also give of their time. Presently, the Spring Valley Ambulance Service has 13 EMTs, six firefighters who can drive the ambulance and four first responders. However, there’s still a shortage of people to answer emergency calls when the crew is needed.

“I think our challenges would be no different than other towns – the recruitment and retaining of volunteers — because it’s difficult to get people to commit, especially because of the extensive testing and the commitment involved,” said Zimmer.

Currently, the service requires that people volunteer 30 hours a month, but there are some on the crew who serve several hundred hours, so the directors are challenging the community to step forward if local residents have an interest in being involved in the service. They’ll “do whatever it takes to get them through testing to be on the schedule for the community,” said Zimmer. “We’d like to get classes scheduled for new EMTs, because there’s a huge need. It’s paying it forward – if you think you’re going to possibly need that service for yourself or your family down the road and want to know that someone will be there, maybe you ought to volunteer.”

Puffer observed, “Our goal is to increase the numbers around staff so that we can provide service to the community, make sure we have consistency and be there for our neighbors.”

The service recently hit the road in its new four-wheel-drive ambulance, an addition to the station’s garage that is welcomed by EMTs and patients alike. Drinkall pointed out that the new truck has safety features for EMTs assisting patients and greater stability for venturing into fields that the older trucks may not have been able to cross.

“We’re very fortunate that the city steps forward and takes care of us, making sure we have the right equipment,” Zimmer remarked.

Drinkall agreed, “I have heard really good reports from patients who might have had the misfortune to ride in both our trucks, and one lady told me, ‘It was worth every penny’ to ride in the new truck.”

The service’s new co-directors are busy answering calls during the daytime hours when there aren’t enough crew members to go out, but in between, they’re also planning the service’s annual pancake breakfast that is held as a major fundraiser for equipment and supplies on Sunday, May 21, to kick off Emergency Medical Services Week.

For more information on how to volunteer to become an EMT, call the Spring Valley ambulance station at 346-7414.