Full Circle

May 21st, 2010 Comments

Earlier this week, I completed the process of retesting for the paramedic national registry. According to the NAEMT site, I started this process exactly three months ago in February, that’s when I first submitted an application to test for the NREMT-Paramedic exam. But that’s only half the story. In reality, the process started a long, long time ago, in a land far away.

I was 14 years old when my friend Larry first invited me to an informational meeting on the Washington County Fire District #1 (WCFD#1) Explorer Scout program.  I really didn’t know anything about firefighting, but Larry told me it was just like the TV show Emergency! After attending that meeting, I decided it would be fun – but I had to wait until I was 15.  For most of my life, since that time, I’ve been involved in emergency services.  

While at college, I became a volunteer firefighter and got my EMT-Basic certification.  It was running ambulance calls there that sparked my interest in EMS.  It was also because I was so busy running ambulance calls, that I failed to do well in school.  I ended up dropping most of my classes and leaving college, but I soon found out that the local ambulance companies wouldn’t hire me (for insurance reasons) until I was 21.  So, I went back to work for my Dad, as a heavy equipment operator and his foreman.

As soon as I turned 21, I applied at Buck Ambulance and was hired to drive their wheelchair transport car.  It wasn’t long before I was working the busiest ambulance in Oregon, running calls in downtown Portland.  I was having a blast – and learning much.Ambulance, 1930

At that time, Oregon had a four-tiered EMT certification program.  The EMT I, was the basic level.  It was an 81 hour course that essentially taught advanced first aid procedures and skills.  The EMT II certification level allowed one to start IVs and gave some additional training in airway management.  I took this course at the old Eastmoreland Hospital in SE Portland in the Fall of 1980.  Many of the first paramedics in the country were trained right here in Portland, but most of them never went past the EMT III level.  Though the scope of practice was similar to an EMT IV(4), the training was only about half of what a full-paramedic training program would offer.  EMT 3s & 4s could start IVs, administer medications, defibrillate, intubate, and perform a host of other procedures.  However, EMT 4s had additional training in psychiatric emergencies, OB/GYN, airway control, and trauma care.

I started the paramedic training program in the Fall of 1981 and completed the certification process in the Spring of 1983.  During that two year period, I also was hired and trained as a professional firefighter at WCFD#1, became a certified firefighter, started the hazardous materials certification process, and divorced my starter-wife.  Oh, did I mention it was a stressful time in my life?

Over the course of the next several years, I became a certified ACLS instructor, a certified PHTLS instructor, and became active in various local, regional, and state EMS advisory boards.  I was advocate in helping Oregon pass a seat-belt law, streamlining the certification process, and standardizing the patient care forms – as well as creating the first state-wide prehospital patient database.

The current EMS system only became a reality in the mid to late 1970s

The contemporary EMS system that most of us have come to rely on, only became a reality in the mid to late 1970s.  Which is about the same time I first got involved as an Explorer Scout.  I’ve had the opportunity to run calls in an old, hearse-style, 1966 Pontiac ambulance.  It was white, had three sirens, powered by a Cadillac 454, and went really fast.  I’ve also run calls out of fire engines and trucks, old pick-ups with a utility box strapped to the back, helicopters, airplanes, and golf carts.

When I left EMS in 1995, I didn’t think I’d ever live in Oregon, or respond to EMS calls anymore.  It looks like that is about to change – it’s been about 15 years and I am now a NREMT-Paramedic!

When I first lost my job last Summer, I wasn’t exactly sure which direction to go.  I was caught off-guard, demoralized, and discouraged.  It was a couple of months later when my friend Ray suggested I go back into EMS.  I immediately knew it was the right thing to do.  I checked with another friend on the potential to support my family, and it looked good.  I checked with the National Registry, and discovered I didn’t have to go back to school for two-years.  I checked with Oregon EMS and discovered that their process was tied directly with the NREMT-P reentry process.  And with that, I began to train and study.225-98 Rare 1958 DeSoto Memphian Ambulance II (Number 11) AS of 10/09/2009 341 Views

I traveled to Eugene twice, once to get an ACLS certification, and once to get a PHTLS certification.  In December we went to Hermiston, for the required 48-hour refresher training.  Then after a bit of studying, I applied to start the testing program.  I traveled to Sacramento in March to take the practical exam, and unfortunately, missed one station – so I had to return in April to retake that one station.  Emotionally, it was a set-back, and financially, it weighed over my head, but in April, that part was complete.

Earlier this week, I traveled to The Dalles to take the cognitive, computer-based test portion of the Registry exam.  Though I was relatively prepared, like many, I could have been better prepared.  Struggling with a bacterial infection over the last month wasn’t helping any.  Some of the questions that came up were beyond my pay-grade, but I pressed on.  When the test shut off at 80 questions, it scared me.  Either I did really well, or I did so poorly that the little people inside that PC box decided there was no point of continuing.

I passed?  Really!?  I passed!

A message came up on the screen thanking me for my participation and telling me the results would be available on the web in two days.  I drove home, about two and a half hours, not feeling very confident about this part of the test.  The next morning, after doing some digging on the NAEMT site, I found that I had passed.  I blinked.  I passed?  Really!?  I passed!

Although the official paperwork hasn’t arrived in the mail, according to the website, I am now a certified paramedic.  I gotta tell you, it feels good. 🙂  I still have some paperwork to complete with Oregon, do a bit more training on the Interwebs, and get a job – but I’m feeling much more confident at this point in time!

Thanks everyone (especially my wonderful wife, who always believes in me!) for your support!


  1. Jason Bruce says:

    What a job! Good post and good luck to you. Love the classic ambulance pic.
    .-= Jason Bruce invites you to read this blog: ..So What? Many Filipinos Optimistic About Quality of Life & Economy =-.

    1. gwalter says:

      Thanks for the affirmation!

  2. gwalter says:

    Thanks Ray – you’ve been a huge support and I really appreciate it!

  3. Lori Stowe says:

    Once again, congratulations!!! I’m so happy for you. Although I only know you on the web, I feel like I know you very well since we have gone through such similar territory. I’m grateful to God that he has provided so well for you and your family. Trusting that he will have my best good foremost in mind as well!!!

    1. gwalter says:

      Thanks Lori!  You are absolutely right – He will take care of you, and He has your best interests in mind – even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time!

  4. Jason Grigsby says:

    This is great news. I’m pleased to hear the path was fairly straightforward for getting re-certified.

    1. gwalter says:

      Thanks Jason!  BTW, it from what I’m hearing in the twitterverse, you’ve been rocking your presentations lately – that too is good to hear!  You have such great ideas.

  5. Curt Fischer says:

    Congrats Gary you have been in My Prayer that every thing would work out for you, in what ever the Lord intended for you to do. You never know how he will use you next.

    1. gwalter says:

      Curt, that really means a lot to me to know you’ve been supporting me through your prayers.  Thank you very much!

  6. Wendy J says:

    Gary, It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to read your posts, but I’m so glad I got to read this one. Congratulations on passing. You will do an awesome job.

    1. gwalter says:

      Thanks Wendy!  EVen though we miss you here in the States, I can already tell from your posts that you too are in the right place.  I’m sure there must be some satisfaction on being back in the Southern Hemisphere!

    2. gwalter says:

      PS:  Happy Birthday Wendy!

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