Paramedic honored for saving lives, battling bureaucracy

May 13, 1994|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Sun Staff Writer

In his 25 years as a volunteer provider of emergency medical services in Carroll County, Bruce Walz has responded to HTC thousands of accident scenes and medical emergencies.

But when asked if one call sticks out in his mind, the Mount Airy resident, who was honored last month by the Maryland Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, doesn't hesitate.

Four years ago, Mr. Walz responded to an auto accident in Frederick County in which a 17-year-old boy was seriously injured. The boy told the ambulance crew that he was having trouble breathing and Mr. Walz was worried that a punctured lung was causing air to build up in his chest.

Mr. Walz knew that he needed to inflate the teen-ager's lungs to release the trapped air. Although he was trained to perform the procedure, called plural decompression, at that time paramedics Maryland weren't permitted to use the life-saving technique.

Mr. Walz rode with the accident victim to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in a MedEvac helicopter, but boy died soon after they arrived.

"That's the thing that always comes to my mind when I push and fight and scream and holler for getting more skills [approved by the state] for paramedics," said Mr. Walz, 41.

"To know that I had the ability to save that young man's life, but I couldn't, because at that time my hands were tied by a bureaucracy," Mr. Walz said.

That experience led Mr. Walz on a successful campaign to push for paramedics in Maryland to be permitted to use more advanced medical techniques, including plural decompression. Through Mr. Walz's efforts, Carroll was one of the first counties in the state where paramedics could practice the additional medical procedures.

It's that tenacity that led Dr. Roger Stone, an emergency room physician at Carroll County General Hospital, to nominate Mr. Walz for recognition by the Maryland Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP).

Last month, the organization's board of directors gave him ACEP's service award.

"He is a voracious defender of establishing the highest level of care that the state allows" in emergency medical services, said Dr. Stone, who met Mr. Walz through the Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Department, where they are both volunteers.

"I would say there are few people, if any, who have done more over the years than Bruce for emergency medical service in Maryland."

Mr. Walz was instrumental in obtaining approval last year allowing paramedics to perform life-saving techniques that they couldn't previously use under state regulations.

Now paramedics can take steps to control slow heart rates electrically, insert breathing tubes through the nose instead of the mouth and perform plural decompression to inflate collapsed lungs. They are also permitted to give certain life-saving medications for high blood pressure and insulin shock, Mr. Walz said.

In addition to his volunteer work in the emergency medicine field, Mr. Walz holds a doctorate in agriculture and extension education and is an assistant professor of emergency health services at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County.

He's published several articles in emergency health journals and written chapters in books on emergency medicine. Mr. Walz and UMBC colleague, Randy Smith, recently completed a chapter on basic skills for a paramedic textbook to be published by ACEP.

Raised in Taylorsville, Mr. Walz joined the Winfield Volunteer Fire Department as a firefighter in 1970. He quickly rose through the ranks of the emergency medical services hierarchy, becoming one of the first emergency medical technicians and then one of the first cardiac rescue technicians in the county.

In 1990 he became one of the county's first paramedics.

"It's interesting, it's challenging and it's an opportunity to directly help individuals," Mr. Walz says of his interest in emergency medicine.

One of the most satisfying aspects of his work has been training others in the field. He's taught classes in the county in all levels of emergency medicine and is responsible for training many of the county's emergency health services volunteers.

Mr. Walz is devoting much of his time to training the county's cardiac rescue technicians (CRTs) to move up to the highest level of emergency medical care -- the paramedic rank. CRTs are trained mainly to handle cardiac emergencies, while paramedics can handle trauma cases and other medical situations.

"We're moving toward upgrading CRTs to paramedics and hoping to make paramedics the standard of care in a few years," Mr. Walz said.

The issue of retraining CRTs is complex because most of the county's emergency medical services are provided by volunteers, many of whom aren't willing to commit the extra time needed to reach the paramedic level, Mr. Walz said.

There are at least one or two paramedics in each of the county's 14 fire companies, but there aren't nearly enough to go out on most advanced life support calls, Mr. Walz said.

Dr. Stone said there will probably be a statewide effort to raise the standard of emergency care to the paramedic level, but for now either the individual counties or local fire companies control the type of emergency medical services that are provided.

Between his work with the Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Department, where he is a captain, and teaching emergency medical service classes, Mr. Walz commits about four nights a week to the emergency medicine field.

"I keep trying to slow down but EMS people can't say no," Mr. Walz said. "When you've worked very hard to get a system up and running, you always see opportunities to make it better."

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