Paramedic Kevin Grange has a new book that sheds light on wilderness medicine, national parks and the conflicts arising between tourism and protecting land.
The book, Wild Rescues: A Paramedic’s Extreme Adventures in Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton (Chicago Review Press) is due out on April 6. JEMS recently talked to Kevin about what he hopes to impart to readers.
JEMS: You’ve seen some pretty wild stuff in your career. What drew you to paramedicine?
Kevin: I love many things about working as a paramedic: the team-oriented approach, the camaraderie, the unique combination of critical thinking and practical skills and, of course, helping people on the worst day of their lives. It is such an honor and privilege to the wear the paramedic badge!
I was drawn to paramedicine because I sought a job that gave my life purpose and meaning that contributed to my community and where every day was different and EMS and firefighting was the perfect fit. Best of all, I found a second family. The brotherhood and sisterhood of first responders is amazing and I’m so proud to be part of this community.
JEMS: Why did you want to write this book, and what do you want people to take away from it?
Kevin: I wrote Wild Rescues because I believe in the lifesaving work that remote (and rural) first responders do and I wanted to celebrate this with readers. Millions of Americans live an hour—or more—from the nearest hospital and around 70% of EMTs and paramedics work for rural or volunteer agencies. And yet, surprisingly, every book, movie or television show about EMS takes place in an urban setting.
As Americans, we depend on EMTs and paramedics to save our lives and the lives of our family and friends. We open our homes to them, invite them into our living rooms—and campsites—and virtually hand over our universe to them. Yet surprisingly, most people know nothing about those EMTs and paramedics who practice the profession in rural and remote settings. What’s it like transporting a dying patient when the closest hospital is hours away? Treating a patient who is having a heart attack far up on a hiking trail? Embarking on a grim body recovery mission below the glorious and majestic Yosemite Falls? And how does seeing all that trauma and death alter your view of the world? Wild Rescues answers these questions—and others—in a dramatic, action-packed way and offers a first-ever look at remote and rural EMS, celebrating the many dedicated people who work that setting.
JEMS: You write in your book you were working for a private ambulance service in Los Angeles. Did you think moving into wilderness EMS would be a chance for you to slow down? Did that happen?
Kevin: Coming out of paramedic school at UCLA—which I detailed in my last book, Lights & Sirens—I was very surprised at the ultra-competitive aspect of getting hired by a fire department so I wanted to chronicle my many challenges which included working for a private ambulance company where I spent all day running inter-facility transports. The hours were long, pay low and you rarely got a good patient hand-off report from the at the assisted living facility, but I made lifelong friends, honed my patient assessment skills and leveraged that experience to move up in the EMS profession.
When I wasn’t getting hired by a fire department, I left Los Angeles and moved into wilderness EMS to learn new skills, embark on a grand adventure and try to improve my resume. I ended up loving wilderness EMS much more than working in a city because, as a provider, you have so much autonomy, amazing protocols and, due to the long transport times, you get to run down the full scope of your treatment algorithms. When you work for a rural agency, it is sink or swim and you feel like you’re a unique blend of Indiana Jones and an ER doctor.
JEMS: In your book, you also write about the importance of land conservation. Why did you want to include that?
Kevin: I believe National Parks are the highest expression of our democratic ideals. Wild Rescues celebrates the diversity of people who work in, and visit, our national parks, and the diversity of the land and wildlife found in Yellowstone, Yosemite and Grand Teton. It’s a grand democracy! In America, anyone—regardless of race, color, creed or socioeconomic status—can pick up the phone, dial 911 and get help. With such a system, there is an acknowledgement of the sacredness of life and the infinite potential of an individual. The United States is the pioneer of both National Parks and prehospital emergency care and our 911 system ensures everyone has a chance for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I began working at Yellowstone as preparations were being made to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS). The mood was one of joy and accomplishment, celebrating a century of service and stewardship. However, in the years that followed, a record-setting numbers of visitors combined with shrinking budgets and the largest rollback of federal land protection in our nation’s history threatened our scenic wonders and land conservation policy. I learned that along with the health of my patients, I was also fighting for the life of “America’s Best Idea,” our national parks. Wild Rescues begins as a paramedic procedural and then widens its scope to explore these important issues.
JEMS: What most surprised you about working in Yosemite, Yellowstone and Grand Teton?
Kevin: It sounds obvious but I quickly learned that people don’t leave their medical problems at home when they venture into a national park. Most of these problems get exacerbated because people forget to take their medications or put an extra stress on their bodies by taking long hikes, sleeping less, changing their diet. I saw all of the same kind of complicated medical patients I witnessed working in Los Angeles but the stakes were immediately higher because we were now hours from the hospital and the environment (terrain and weather) was often a factor. I also learned the importance of having a back-up option because things rarely went as planned.
Lastly, I also discovered a whole new side of EMS that existed where an ambulance couldn’t go: search and rescue missions, snowmobile crashes, rock-climbing accidents, bison gorings and bear maulings.
JEMS: What’s your next adventure?
Kevin: Having spent the last three years writing Wild Rescues and working two jobs with Jackson Hole Fire/EMS and Grand Teton National Park, I’m excited to have some downtown and simply enjoy life: hike, camp, mountain bike, ski, travel and reconnect with friends and family. Once COVID ends, I’m also excited to start speaking and teaching at EMS conferences and reconnecting with fellow providers.
Eventually, I’m sure I’ll write another book at some point but I’d like to take a break from writing a memoir and tell someone else’s story. I’d love to find an inspiring person—perhaps a first responder or someone in the military—and tell their story. I’d love to write a book like Lone Survivor, Red Platoon, American Sniper or Fearless.
To date, I’ve written a book about trekking in the Himalayas, going to paramedic school and now working for the National Park Service. These books appear to be very different but, in reality, they’re quite similar—they all detail a group of people banding together to bring out the best in each other and overcome an obstacle and, in the end, celebrate our amazing country. The irony of a memoir is that it’s your story but the inspiration to write is always something, or someone, outside yourself. In Wild Rescues, I was inspired by the park rangers, volunteers and medical directors I worked with during my time at the NPS. The book really is a celebration of them and the great outdoors!