Having a small-town ambulance service is often taken for granted but a critical service for any community. This week the City of Wabasha is celebrating National EMS Week and taking time to recognize and thank its 25 EMS providers, both full-time and volunteer, who dedicate themselves to providing life-saving service in the community.

The members of the Wabasha Ambulance Service, come from a variety of backgrounds, with three members who do it as their full-time job and 21 others who provide part-time, weekend, and evening call coverage, in addition to day-time jobs as social workers, farmers, dispatchers, nurses, administrators, sales, teachers, contractors, metal manufacturer. One thing they all have in common though- a desire to serve.

Callie Carrels spends her days as a social worker for Wabasha County and raising her 7-year old son in Wabasha, but spends some of her evenings and weekends taking call-time for the ambulance service as a volunteer.  

Callie Carrels, EMT

“ A few years ago, I was a bystander at a car accident by the high school. Someone needed CPR and I just froze up. I made a promise to myself that day that I would learn to do better the next time,” said Callie about how she decided to get involved.  

So when ambulance service crew member and fellow social worker Sadie Keller, told her the service needed help, she knew she needed to say yes, even though she had no previous medical background.  

Alyssa Simonson, Paramedic

For Alyssa Simonson, a paramedic with the service, EMS has been a part of her childhood. She grew up with her mom, Tina Cook, running the Pepin Ambulance Service in Wisconsin. When she was 19, she became an EMT and volunteered in Pepin, Union Grove, Durand, and eventually took a full-time EMT position with the Wabasha Ambulance Service. She soon realized she wanted to do even more to develop professionally in the field.

“Working in a small community at a young age, I had experiences where people that called 9-1-1 were a friend, an acquaintance, or even a loved one. That motivated me to strive to further my education as a paramedic, so I could do even more to help them,” said Alyssa about her decision to then go on to pursue and eventually graduate from paramedic school last December.  

Shawn Wristen, a volunteer, who has spent just a year on the service, had a critical incident, with his one-year old daughter, Raya, in Greenfield Township where he lives, that also spurred him into action.

“ Just over a year ago, I was cooking dinner and my daughter was just starting to learn to walk. All of a sudden, as she toddled towards me, her eyes rolled back and she began having a seizure. We called 9-1-1, and it felt like we waited a long time, even though it was just 10 minutes. We were told later, that any longer without getting her to the hospital to receive the life-saving medication, could have caused permanent brain damage.”

With the knowledge that response times means saving lives, Shawn, enrolled himself in the EMT class run by the ambulance service last September and passed his test.

Elliott Kann, a former high school teacher, has been in the field for just three years, works part-time for the Wabasha service, while also doing a full-time job for Hastings Fire Department. For him, the switch to a new career, was also about a calling to serve in a new way.  

“You have no idea what’s going to happen when you come to work, anything from helping someone who has fallen, to a motorcycle crash. Not everyone can do this line of work, but once you get into it, you feel an obligation to serve. It’s a very rewarding career, because you know someone is putting a lot of trust in you when they make the 9-1-1 call,” said Elliott about what he enjoys about the EMS field.  

For anyone interested in joining the Wabasha Ambulance Service, even without a medical background, Shawn, Alyssa, Elliott, and Callie would strongly recommend giving it a try.   

“I really enjoy working with the Wabasha crew, they welcomed me right away and I felt like they all wanted me to succeed, it’s a friendly atmosphere,” said Shawn.   

Callie has one other piece of advice for someone who might want to volunteer for their local ambulance service or fire department, “Just don’t overthink it, because you always will find a reason not to do it. But when I did something really tough for me, like joining the Wabasha Ambulance Service, I found an amazing director, an incredible crew, and partners who have become like family.” 

To successfully operate a rural ambulance service in Wabasha, serving Wabasha and Gundersen St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and Clinics, city of Kellogg, townshps of Minneiska, Greenfield, Pepin (Read’s Landing), Watopa, Highland, and Glasgow, it takes commitment from this small group of volunteers and full-time EMTs and paramedics to cover, an average 700 calls per year, hundreds of hours training, and cover over 17,500 hours of call time.  

Across the country, rural EMS is in crisis, with news of EMS services shutting down as rural populations have a tough time staffing a 24-7 hour service. In honor of National EMS week, please thank your neighbor who has answered the call to serve as a first responder or EMT. Please consider answering the call yourself to becoming a volunteer with your local EMS service.   

Wabasha Ambulance Service Crew Members: Anna Arens, Dan Arens, Stacy Arens, Austyn  Burt, Tina Cook, Riley Costello, Ed Graner, Elliott Kann, Dawn Kontzelmann, Colten Kruempel, Corey Lewandowski, Ryan Marking (Director), Bryton Miller, Ryan Olsen, Brooke Ortega, Tiffany Risch, Rudy Roemer, Callie Carrels, Cindy Sheeley, Darren Sheeley, Alyssa Simonson, Jeff Wallerich, Sadie Wallerich, Shawn Wristen

Dan and Stacey Arens, water rescue training

Shawn Wristen and his daughter Raya

Elliott Kann (EMT), Alyssa Simonson (Paramedic)

Alyssa Simonson, Shawn Wristen, Elliott Kann