By: Cipher Tarrant, 2020-2021 NSP-Subaru Ambassador

2020 started as a normal year for most of us, and now look where we are in 2021. Most kids are not in the actual classroom, lots of people are still out of work, masks have become something relatively normal. Not many of us thought the world we knew would look like this now.  2020 was a rollercoaster that has pushed us as a community, country, and as humans to adapt and react.

The beginning of the year seemed normal. I was working part time and volunteer patrolling as well as acting as a volunteer EMT. Then, everything got flipped upside down on us. For most of the first part of the year, I worked 60-80+ hour weeks, went back to school, and did patrol related stuff. I was lucky to only spend two days in quarantine.

At the beginning of the pandemic my EMS department said, if you’re not comfortable making calls, the shift requirement would be waived.  We really didn’t have much info, and to me, my work as an EMT is a commitment I made and won’t go back on. You can compare EMS to ski patrol as a volunteer. In our area, the majority of patrollers in my region are actually retirement age. That happens to be the group most at risk for severe COVID complications. Regardless of a pandemic, people still need help and will still call 911. This means we need to make sure someone’s there to help.  As an EMS responder, if you are injured on the job you do qualify for some worker’s comp. However, Wisconsin pushed to increase (?) COVID coverage for their first responders. Ski patrollers on the other hand have no workers comp or COVID coverage. This has not stopped me from being on the hill though.

Friday March 13th, 2020. 

Usually, when coaching, being on your phone is a big no no, but tonight was different. Rumors were floating around that Wisconsin was going to shut down K-12 schools. I don’t have kids, but I’ve worked with and coached kids aged 10-18 for years now. One of the 11 year olds turned to me and asked, “What’s that mean for club?” My response, “we will keep it going as long as we can.” What I didn’t realize yet was that night was the last time I was going to see my kids until October. After coaching I drove out to the hill to help cover our late night special (we have night skiing [is that right?]). The three kids on that shift were excited to get a bonus two week break from school, thanks to pandemic restrictions,  but the magnitude of what was actually coming was unimaginable.

The following week my work laid off all of the part time staff and paused youth programs. Whatever hours you had worked would be paid, but that was it. Similar to most, I was left scrambling to figure out how to pay my bills. A fellow patroller mentioned I should apply to a company that staffs events with EMTs. A day after being laid off I had secured a job as a HSMT Health & Safety Medical Technician with an assignment as part of the COVID Response Team as a medical personnel for a construction site. The catch, and the concerns raised by my 70 year old mother were, the location, distance from home, long hours, and potentially exposing myself and her to COVID.

From the end of March until mid-July I spent 5 days a week in a hotel. Sunday I would do laundry and pack for the week and drive to the hotel. Monday morning at 5am I’d hop out of bed and commute a short distance to work at the construction site. After working there all week, Friday morning I would check out and drive 10 hours back home. Saturday I was on EMS because that was the only day I had available and then by Sunday my week would start over. It was both a demanding and exhausting schedule. The hotel staff and other regular guests became a second family and we usually ate dinner together in the lobby. We always had a revolving door of truckers who brought stories of what was happening in other states.

In mid-July the construction site I was assigned to was finishing up and I had the opportunity to transfer to the Chicago area, which is just under 3 hours away from home. I declined because I had applied to take an Advanced EMT class in the fall and run the Madison Area Outdoor Emergency Care class. Now that I’ve wrapped that up, I’m working at my local county’s testing and vaccination site giving the COVID vaccine and acting as the emergency medical staff. Between patrol, EMS, and work I’m buzzing around 6-7 days per week.

Luckily, our EMS department stayed relatively quiet. Due to being so rural, COVID wasn’t spreading as fast in our coverage area compared to in the city. All calls we would wear gowns, face shields, N95s, and the standard gloves. I had a few hotel mates who had COVID and openly discussed what it was like. Even being EMS you didn’t really see COVID precautions the way I did when I got to do clinicals. My clinical rotations got delayed a few times as Dane County and Wisconsin saw COVID infections spike with an upward trend. The response from the school was, “it’s not safe to send students to clinicals right now”.

Finally in November, I was able to get into one of our local emergency rooms. On EMS we were starting to pre alert hospitals before transport because bed space was becoming limited and we might get diverted. I remember one of the emergency room’s morning group meetings led by a patrol coworker. That morning several beds freed up from the previous day. Some people got discharged, but most of the free beds came from others dying. As a student, “known positive” patients were off limits, but patients in isolation pending results were up to us. I decided since I needed respiratory patient contacts to complete my class requirements that I’d visit some of them.

Weighing patrolling as a volunteer this year,I am lucky to be younger with no serious underlying medical conditions. That was a factor in my decision to patrol. I had to think about the risk of getting COVID during a volunteer job, which could possibly result in me losing my paid job. Again, my mom was on my mind.

Why do I patrol? I patrol to be able to help people. On a day that could be life changing for someone, chaotic, or even the worst day of their life, I want to be able to be there and try to make a positive difference. I’ve been on the scene of a life changing day when I watched my friend free fall 50 feet. (More on that in a later blog.). I would be disappointed in myself if I ran and hid or backed down when someone needed me. However, I cannot fault anyone who puts their health first. Most volunteer based hills had patrollers go inactive this year, and who can blame them? I can’t. Take Tyrol Basin for example, which is my home hill. Our patrol has quite a few patrollers who are retired. Luckily we had enough young candidates eager to jump in with all the extra time they had this year. Patrol or go inactive, would their answer have changed if they knew patrollers would be considered frontline workers and be invited to get vaccinated. I don’t doubt it. As an EMT I have had both doses of the vaccine.  My county prioritized EMS then healthcare workers with direct patient contact. It came as a huge relief to active patrollers knowing they would be vaccinated.

As we near the end of January, Wisconsin is starting to vaccinate people in the 1B category. Some kids are starting to go back to school and our hill has been busy. To everyone who has been working thank you, to all the pro and volunteer patrollers patrons have needed us now more than ever. Keep your head up, things are improving.