'Driving force' receives paramedic of year honor by David Lias Anthony Burbach is an expert when it comes to multi-tasking.
The 30-year-old Vermillion man, who works full-time for the Sioux City, IA ambulance service, also serves as volunteer emergency medical technician for the Vermillion Ambulance Association.
On top of all of that activity, he has also lent his musical talent to two very successful, home-grown community theatre musicals in the city.
"We always say that on a scale of 1 to 10, most people go through the day operating at about a seven. Anthony usually operates at about a 14," said Gary Myers, the EMS director of the Vermillion Ambulance Association.
Burbach, he said, "is the driving force on all of our major projects." That's why Myers nominated Burbach for this year's EMS Magazine/Braun Industries EMT/Paramedic of the Year Award.
Last July, as Burbach was in the middle of a band rehearsal for the musical The Absurd Adventures of Lewis and Clark, his cell phone rang.
The caller informed him he had been selected for the award.
"I was kind of dumfounded, and kind of surprised," Burbach said, "because I didn't even know I had been nominated. It utterly caught me off guard."
He received his honor Oct. 21 during the opening session of the national EMS Expo in Atlanta, GA.
Burbach will receive a $1,000 savings bond from Braun and prizes from EMS Magazine. Myers, who nominated Burbach for the award, also attended the convention.
As far as Myers knows, Burbach is the first South Dakotan to win the national award in its 19 years of existence.
"Anthony has taken it upon himself to do a couple of big projects," Myers said. "Anthony is a high-energy person with a lot more going on than most people. I hoped the people at EMS Magazine would think so, and they did."
Of all the things Burbach has accomplished in the community, he's most proud of helping to provide automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) to first responders throughout the community.
"We purchased 13 AEDs to place in our police cars, county sheriff cars and campus public safety cars," he said. "A couple went in our fire trucks, and one alternates between the high school and the swimming pool, depending on the time of the year."
When a call is received that someone in the community is suffering a heart attack, an AED likely could be on the scene within two to three minutes.
"The same machines are in our ambulances, but when we respond from our home and have to go the station and then to the scene, it can take from seven to 10 minutes," Burbach said. "For every one minute that an irregular heartbeat is not treated, the chance of survival goes down by 10 percent. With AEDs in the hands of the first responders, they are giving the
patient a much better chance at life."
Burbach helped raise $15,000 to buy the 13 AEDs.
"I was hoping to get as many units as I could with a couple of grants," he said. "Then, Medtronic of Minneapolis allowed us to purchase the AEDs at the same price as another city.
"On Dec. 22, I learned we were getting our AEDs. At first, I thought we were going to get half the number we needed, but instead we could afford all of them. That was my Christmas present."
The fully-automated, compact AED becomes voice automated when the rescuer opens the machine. The rescuer is instructed where to place the patches, and the AED either provides the shock if needed or instructs the person to commence CPR. The AED records the data, which can be downloaded onto a strip.
But purchasing and placing the AED units was just the beginning, Myers said. Unlike many states, South Dakota requires training on the AED and does not allow the general public to access and operate the units.
Burbach, Myers and others provided the four-hour training course for first responders, and the AED units were all in service last December. In addition to Burbach's project, USD and other entities have purchased AED units.
"We have more AEDs than any other community our size in South Dakota," Myers said. "That's important, because we have events which bring in large amounts of people, like the Farm Show, any Lewis and Clark event, and Dakota Days."
The national award represents a rapid rise for Burbach, a Sioux City native who attended USD where he studied biology. After graduation, he thought about medical school, but took a job as an accompanist in the USD music department, where he met his wife, Gretchen, then a voice major. Burbach entered paramedic school at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, graduating from the program in spring 2000. He interned at the Sioux City ambulance service and has continued working there as a full-time paramedic. Myers said he would like to see South Dakota update its laws so laypersons can operate AED units without training. The move would prove especially valuable for volunteer departments in rural areas, he said.
"I would also like to see the state put the AEDs in the hands of the highway patrolmen," he said.
Myers predicted both Burbach and the AED project can go much further.
"I thought Anthony had a better-than-average shot at the national award. I thought he deserved it, and I wanted to nominate him," Myers said. "It is an honor to him and definitely to the department and the community as well."
Burbach said his trip to Atlanta assured him that the AED purchase for Vermillion first responders was definitely a progressive move.
"There were times I could stand in one place in the Atlanta airport, and see four AEDs hanging on the walls," he said. "You could always see at least one. This is the wave of the future."
Music and medicine, Burbach admits, are contrasting fields. He's happy, though, to be involved in both.
"Music has always been a love and hobby, since I've been a little kid," Burbach said. "I've always wanted medicine to be my job, to be my full-time activity."
He said his involvement with both the ambulance service and the local community theatre wouldn't be possible without the help of his wife and children, and Myers.
"When I have to be at a rehearsal for a musical, I have to give up some of my shift for Vermillion," he said. "and then there are times when I need to be on call for Vermillion, and my wife sits at home with a cold meal.
"I've got understanding people around me," Burbach said.