Oconto Falls ambulance, director honored by state EMS association

Awards to be presented Jan. 31 at state convention in Green Bay

The Oconto Falls Area Ambulance Service and its service director, Patrick Ahlgrim, have been honored with special awards by the Wisconsin EMS Association (WEMSA).

The local service has been named 2023 WEMSA Service of the Year in recognition of its “exceptional contributions to the field of EMS,” and Ahlgrim has been named 2023 WEMSA Support Person of the Year.

The awards will be presented Jan. 31 during the association’s annual Conference and Expo at the Resch Expo Hall in Green Bay.

“I am deeply inspired by our honorees. Their extraordinary dedication and resilience highlight their capacity to surpass the demands of their roles,” said Tony Lash, president of the WEMSA Board of Directors.

“In an era where the spotlight on emergency services is more crucial than ever, we are thrilled to honor our award recipients. Their unwavering commitment and exceptional service exemplify their ability to exceed expectations and persevere through challenges. And this is a challenging time for EMS,” added Alan DeYoung, executive director of WEMSA.

According to the citations released by WEMSA:

Before Oconto Falls Area Ambulance Service (OFAAS) upgraded to a Critical Care Paramedic service, reliance on out-of-area ambulance services for critical patient transport from hospitals in Oconto County resulted in lengthy delays, sometimes lasting hours to days, until an ambulance could become available. Recognizing the pressing need for change became even more critical with the onset of the pandemic.

In the midst of the pandemic’s challenges, OFAAS administration initiated the process of service upgrade. This involved extensive networking, communication with hospitals, meetings with town representatives, securing financial backing, contractual commitments and engagement with DHS.

By October 2021, OFAAS submitted the application for the upgrade and an operational plan with new protocols to DHS. The staffing model at OFAAS is hybrid, featuring EMRs, EMTs, paramedics and RNs, allowing flexibility based on patient needs. Its work culture emphasizes individual professional growth, collaboration, decision-making latitude, independent thinking, problem-solving and conflict resolution.

In December 2021, OFAAS received state approval to provide 911 Paramedic service and Critical Care Paramedic interfacility transfers. The immediate impact of having local Critical Care Paramedic service was evident, with quicker transport times and shortened 911 response times. During the first year of the upgrade, critical cases such as STEMI or stroke candidates met recommended response times, resulting in significant reductions in disability and mortality. Call volume increased substantially from approximately 600 calls per year to 1,414 calls in 2022.

It also established a green, eco-friendly community garden that yielded over 2,000 pounds of fresh produce for the county’s food pantry.

Ahlgrim’s journey at OFAAS began in July 2018 when he returned to his EMS roots, driven by a desire to raise his young family in the same community where he grew up.

Shortly after rejoining the squad, he was offered the position of service director. Despite facing challenges — including minimal staffing, limited resources, low funding and outdated equipment — Ahlgrim accepted the role. His wife, Angie, also in EMS, joined him to start strategic planning to keep the doors open and the service running.

He continued to respond to EMS calls in addition to working full-time as an Emergency Department registered nurse at a local hospital. During the early days of his tenure, the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, adding unprecedented strain to health care systems.

It was during this time that he made the decision to work toward upgrading OFAAS from an Advanced EMT level to a Critical Care Paramedic Service.

“In addition to this achievement, Patrick’s leadership and character set him apart,” the WEMSA citation says. “He fosters a sense of unity among his team, always greeting them with a warm ‘Good morning’ and providing support in their professional and personal lives. He listens to their ideas, encourages staff autonomy and promotes a ‘squad family’ atmosphere.”