Spotlight: James Rattunde, 2015 Star of Life

James Rattunde
Baraboo, Wisconsin, USA
NR-EMT at Baraboo District Ambulance Service
2015 AAA Stars of Life Honoree

Tell us a little about yourself.

I have lived in Necedah, WI my entire life. I will have been married to my first wife for 39 years in August. We were blessed with twins, a daughter and a son. We also have five grandchildren ages 10, 8, 6, 4, and 2. I love the outdoors, landscaping, lawn and garden, camping (although now in a 5th wheel—not a tent), waterskiing and watersports, and helping others.

How did you come to work in the industry? How long have you been involved?

When my younger brother was about 7 or 8 years old he fell down the stairs with a piece of candy in his mouth. The candy got caught in his throat and he started choking. I never forgot the look on my mother’s face as my brother turned blue and we thought surely he would die. Henry Wegner came running thru the front door of our house and—probably due to his military training—knew just what to do. Henry was able to dislodge the candy and my brother survived. By the way, the ambulance was a white 1962 Ford with a 352 Thunderbird V-8 and a Siebert chasis. I believe to this day that this event is what inspired me to want to be able to help others, just the way Henry did. Mr. Wegner died just a couple of years ago well into his 90s.

I took my first “medical”-related course while attending the police basic training at Western Technical College in La Crosse, WI in 1973. My first experience with what we now call EMS was driving emergency transfers from Hess Memorial Hospital to La Crosse, Madison, and Marshfield, Wisconsin. This was before the advent of Air Transport such as Med-Flight (U.W. Madison) Med-Link (Gundersen of La Crosse), or Spirit Air (Marshfield, WI). We would load the patients in the back of a 1970 Cadillac powered by a 472 c.i.d. V-8 and drive as fast as you possibly could to the receiving hospital. The interstate in Juneau County opened up in about 1966 so it was still a relatively new highway. I can remember driving at speeds over 100 mph in hopes of getting to the hospital in time to save the patient’s life. I got that job because I was a road deputy for the Juneau County Sheriff’s Department. and had experience driving at high speeds.

In February 1975 I joined our local fire department and became an “Ambulance Attendant”. By the way, they still had the 1962 Ford/Siebert Ambulance (I have a picture of it). I’m still a member with 40 years of service.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Helping others in their time of need. After becoming the EMS Chief at Necedah I tried to instill into the new EMTs that we were the only thing between the worst day of their patients’ lives and the best that it could possibly be. A patient’s 911 call may not seem like an emergency to us, but the caller had no where else to turn for help so you need to show up with a smile on your face and compassion in your heart.

I also had a rule that no matter what, no matter how bad the call was, no matter how bad your day was, no matter how badly you wanted to be somewhere else, you had an opportunity to make a difference in the life of someone else. Not everyone gets a chance to do what we do. It always made my day when I could get a patient to smile. I truly believe some of the best care given was by simply holding patients hands and telling them that you will do everything humanly possible to take care of them.

I would certainly be remiss if I didn’t mention my co-workers at Baraboo EMS. What an amazing group of people, and great to work with.

What is your biggest professional challenge?

Politics, politics, politics. I’ve said many times that I would like to live long enough to see EMS get the respect it deserves, but I don’t think that will ever happen. We pay more to have our garbage transported that we do patients! Also, It’s no secret that anyone working in EMS, fire, or police is subjected to things that most people can’t imagine. Horrible crashes, trauma, death, sickness, child abuse, elder abuse—the list goes on. There really does come a time when you get to the point where you just don’t want to see it anymore. Some say it’s weakness, but I disagree. I believe it comes from having the strength to “deal” with it for so long that you finally need to stop. The sad part is how some decide to stop.

What is your typical day like?

I have never had a typical day! There was always something waiting just around the corner. I have a life-time of memories; some good, and some not so much. One thing I started doing years ago was saving thank you cards, notes, letters, etc. When I start to wonder why I continue doing what I do, I open up the box and re-read them. That always gets me back on track. I now have two boxes full of such thank yous.

What does being a Star of Life mean to you?

The Star of Life means more to me that I have adequate words for. I’m truly humbled and honored. Never did I ever imagine I would be able to experience this. This award is cherished and will never be forgotten.

Interview, Wisconsin

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