Vale Ambulance Director Todd Hesse will step down from his position at the end of the month after a 20-year career helping his community. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).
VALE – For the past 20 years the director of the Vale Ambulance observed the very best and worst of human nature and the tragedy of chance.
Todd Hesse and his team responded to car and motorcycle wrecks, farm accidents or rushed to local homes to attend heart attack victims.
For countless people, Hesse and his 18-member crew of emergency medical technicians were all that stood between life and death.
Understandably, he is proud of his department.
At the end of May, Hesse will say goodbye to his big red-and-white ambulances and Malheur County to take a job as the Rockaway Beach fire chief in Tillamook County on the Oregon coast.
Hesse said the move was a decision he and his wife, Mikael, considered carefully. He said he is eager to take on the new challenge, but will miss Vale and Malheur County.
“I have had a great pleasure in serving here,” said Hesse.
Serving the community is a family tradition. His father, Ted, was the chief of the Vale Fire and Ambulance and Hesse became fire chief in 2006 and held the slot until 2015, when he took over as the director of Vale Ambulance. Hesse also met his wife, Mikael, when she worked for the Vale Ambulance as an EMT.
The Vale Ambulance service is made up of mostly volunteers – with just two full-time positions – and Hesse said his crews are dedicated.
“We all have a passion to serve our community,” said Hesse.
An ambulance service is vital to any community and Hesse said usually his crews encounter the public in some of the most difficult circumstances.
“The worst times in people’s lives is when they call us,” said Hesse.
His approach, he said, is to “be safe, give compassion and be nice to people. Be prepared to perform your duties.”
Hesse said he witnessed a lot of change in his 20 years in public service. One is the evolution of the training standards for EMTs.
“In the 1970s the EMT classes were 40 hours,” he said. “Now they are 160 hours. A volunteer here must be as well-trained as a full-time person in Portland.”
Recruiting volunteers, he said, is also more difficult.
“You look for people with a passion to help. But it’s getting harder and harder because of the demands of life. Couples most often have to be both working to support their families and that doesn’t leave a lot of free time and youth today are leaving town. We are getting to be an older community,” said Hesse.
Training, he said, is crucial to building a good team.
“You train until you can’t get it wrong. On the scene is not the time to learn,” he said.
While he and his crews encountered more than their share of the carnage of life, there have been lighter moments too.
Like the time with the duck that became stuck in a stove chimney.
“We had to pull the stove apart. The duck came out, flew out the front door,” said Hesse, 52.
He said he also responded to more than his share of calls about cats stuck in trees.
“Plenty of those. But you know, I’ve never seen a cat skeleton in a tree,” said Hesse.
Hesse said despite the high-tempo nature of his job he never faced burnout.
“There are times emotionally when you are challenged and it can wear on you but it is a great privilege to serve the community,” said Hesse.
Hesse said he is also thankful for the people who worked at the Vale Ambulance over the years.
“I always wanted to make sure everyone came home after every call,” he said.
On May 31, Hesse will leave the Vale Ambulance building and its bays where the ambulances sit ready to respond.
He said he has few regrets.
“I have an absolute pride to serve this community and to feel like you made a difference,” said Hesse.
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