EMS paramedic embraces a demanding job
A paramedic from Soldotna, Jessica Roper is in Homer this summer, working at the Fire Department as Emergency Medical Services (EMS).
Roper works 24.5 hours; from 8 a.m. until 8:15.a.m. the following morning, takes 48 hours off, and then does it all over again.
"Waking up at 3 a.m. for a call or responding to an elderly person's house for a lift assist three times a week isn't a burden," she shared. "It's why I'm here and it's why we're on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year. Every call I go on teaches me something new, something that can help me in the future and something that I will carry with me throughout my career."
During a typical workday, Roper may respond to unattended camp or beach fires, individuals experiencing chest pain, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain or other medical emergencies, including traumas or car accidents. She may also be dispatched to transport inbound/outbound patients who have been flown from Seldovia to Homer, shuttling them between Smoky Bay Air and South Peninsula Hospital.
Roper's interest in the field began when she was 14 years old. She spent three years volunteering at the Soldotna Fire Department and when she graduated high school, she began studying for her two-year degree in Associate Science in Paramedic Technology. She graduated last year, at the age of 20, licensed as a Mobile Intensive Care Paramedic, holding a medical license, and the highest level achievable in the field, both nation and station wide.
"I was drawn to this job because of the satisfaction I get in being able to bring a neutral mind and high quality care to those in vulnerable, high stress, scary and tragic scenes" she said.
Roper was recruited for her current job while she was taking Firefighter One classes in Homer last fall and volunteering with both the Anchor Point Fire Department and Kachemak Emergency Services. In order to work for the State of Alaska, individuals have to perform both firefighting and EMS jobs.
"Do I like firefighting? Yes. Do I love EMS? Yes. Will I tolerate firefighting to get a job in EMS? Absolutely!," she said.
Roper shared that arriving at the scene of a medical emergency and being unable to help is always challenging.
"Responding to calls when someone has already passed away or when you're doing everything you possibly can and not being successful is tough," she shared. "It's part of the job, but never becomes normal or better."
Roper also shared that currently, there is controversy and conversation about enforcing EMS to not provide resuscitative efforts to repeat drug overdose patients. While she understands the controversy, she would disagree with the enforcement.
"There's a lot of debate about opioid overdoses," she said. "If I show up to a medical emergency or a trauma and I have the resources, knowledge and ability to bring someone back, regardless of their past or what choices they have made, I would have to help that person."
Despite the challenges, Roper shared that she values being able to make a difference in other's lives.
"You learn to respond appropriately to bring safety and comfort to people when they are vulnerable," she said. "You don't get to do that often in every day life, and it brings me peace and comfort knowing I can give that to somebody. I am here to help, regardless of the situation, and I am here to help with a smile on my face, a shoulder to lean on, and a hand to help."
One of five paid staff in the Homer Fire Department, Roper works alongside the Fire Chief, an Administrative Assistant, three other Emergency Medical Staff, as well as a team of trained community volunteers, Roper considers them to be family.
"You become incredibly close to the people you work with in such intense and traumatic situations," she said. "You develop a fire family and it is an unbreakable bond."
Currently studying psychology through the University of Alaska Anchorage's summer program, her long-term goals include going back to school to get her Bachelor or Masters Degree in Emergency Management.
"I do my best to prepare my mind, knowledge base and skills to provide the best possible patient care," she said.
Born and raised in Soldotna, Roper shared that she has enjoyed her time in Homer — working, playing music and enjoying the local hiking trails.
"I would love to stay and work in Homer, but I think I'll have to wait a few years for the career guys to retire," she said. "Being here has made me realize how much I love small communities and small towns - the locally-owned business, how everything is community-based and how it seems that everyone is a part of some organization."