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Buck Ambulance.
Oregonís paramedic pioneers revealed in documentary posted on 07/01/2019

Denise O’Halloran, a paramedic currently teaching American Heart Association courses at Portland's Cascade Training Center, had the idea in 2012 to put together a documentary about the first female paramedics in the area. But when she started interviewing those early pioneers, she realized that there was a bigger story to tell, not just about those women who broke into the field, but how Portland and its privatized ambulance service was on the cutting edge of emergency medical services and the evolution of the industry.

“We had no idea that’s where the project was going at that time,” O’Halloran said. “One of the things we were struck by was how freewheeling Portland was.”

With the help of Mountain resident Pat McAbery, owner of Sight and Sound Services in Welches, “The Rose City Experiment,” captures the transition from men in cars that would simply bring a person to a hospital to both men and women utilizing advanced life saving techniques in the field.

The pair interviewed nine subjects for more than 18 hours to come up with the documentary, which clocks in at 54 minutes and is available to rent or buy on Amazon (Prime membership is not required). The film is done in chapter format, which focus on aspects of the evolution of ambulance service, the challenges of breaking in as a woman, the different vehicles used, the lessons learned following the 1978 crash of a DC-8 airplane in Gresham and more.

The documentary premiered last fall at the Kennedy School in Portland, with approximately 250 people in attendance. O’Halloran noted that those people who were part of the story are not the type that would typically promote their accomplishments, but they were grateful for the documentary getting done.

“I think these folks never dreamed this story would be told,” said O’Halloran, who started her career at Alpine Ambulance in Sandy. “One said it was the retirement party they never had. It was a delightful, amazing experience”

Notable moments in the documentary include the first cardiac save in the country, when a patient was revived after going into cardiac arrest (credited to a Portland area team on Dec. 23, 1969), reviving the owner of Buck Ambulance, Ben Buck, in February 1970 and reviving Portland’s mayor, Terry Schrunk.

McAbery, who is also a firefighter/paramedic for the Gresham Fire Department, got an early start into the industry, as he would tag along with his mother on private calls on the Mountain at the age of seven. And he noted that while the life-long responders enjoyed the documentary, spectators who did not have a background in the industry were also sucked in.

“I think it is a story that you don’t have to know EMS (Emergency Medical Services) to understand,” McAbery said.

O’Halloran added that the documentary helps show the wherewithal and can-do attitude that some of the “cowboy” doctors had to help create the system we now enjoy.

“It’s not just an EMS story, it’s an Oregon story,” she said.

A trailer for the documentary is available at https://youtu.be/3YEe12V-o1E

By Garth Guibord/MT

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