Meet Mahaska Health Emergency Services

·4 min read

Aug. 4—OSKALOOSA — Everyone has heard it — the sound of sirens blaring as an ambulance rushes past. Cars pull over to make way for emergency services to reach their destination as quickly as possible, but what not many people are privy to is the actual work that the emergency medical technicians and paramedics inside the ambulance do once they arrive.

Mike Lang, Mahaska Health's emergency services director, and Rob Hanlon, Mahaska Health's ambulance coordinator as well as soon-to-be ER coordinator, sat down with The Herald to discuss the kind of training, teamwork and resilience it takes to respond effectively to medical crises in Mahaska County.

Turns out, it takes a lot.

"Before we even leave the hospital, we need to know where we're going and we'd like to get an idea about what we're responding to ... We'll be thinking about what kind of additional resources we need while we're en route," said Lang who, along with Hanlon, is a paramedic and registered nurse with extensive experience in the field as a first responder.

Both Lang and Hanlon have pursued numerous hours of training and continued education since starting down the long road of working as first responders, first becoming EMTs, then paramedics, and then eventually registered nurses. On Aug. 7 of this year, Lang will have completed his bachelor's degree in nursing. Lang and Hanlon say that the rigorous training required for every level of the job is largely what enables them to work so efficiently as they offer medical assistance in the middle of a crisis.

"It's a very systematic approach," Lang said. "It comes with a lot of training, over and over again. We have a lot of continuing education we have to do when we recertify every two years, so that's always at the forefront ...Adrenaline gets flowing sometimes, but you know, after you do this for a while, it really becomes second nature."

"Don't tunnel in," is the advice that Hanlon gives to new team members. "Try not to tunnel in on this one thing ... Look at the whole picture."

The whole picture, as it turns out, can sometimes throw some pretty tough curveballs.

"You want to look at your surroundings," Lang said. "Is there any type of gas leak? Is there a chemical leak? Is there a fire? Do we have to be on a highway and have to worry about setting the ambulance a certain way so that we're keeping the scene safe? Those are the types of things that go through our minds."

It's a lot to juggle as a team in the space of time it takes to respond to a call. It's demanding and rigorous, but both Lang and Hanlon love it. Their work as first responders is a second career for both of them.

Hanlon previously worked as a parts salesman and Lang as a facilities and warehousing manager. Hanlon started his career as a first responder when he was invited to join his local fire department. From there he became an ambulance driver and in his own words, "I got tired of just driving. I was like, 'I'd like to see what's going on in the back,' so I talked to our director ... about getting in EMT class."

Lang became a first responder when the company he was working for shut its doors in 2009. He saw the opportunity to go back to school and discovered a passion for working as a paramedic.

The rest is history.

Today, Lang and Hanlon both say that when it comes to their work as first responders, Oskaloosa is the place they want to be.

"Right off the bat, I had a great experience when I started," Lang said. "As far as Oskaloosa, as I've worked more and more in this community, you know, it's that small town feel. It's the services, the teamwork that you have from all the other first responding services. You show up on scene, you need help, and usually the police department is there and they're right there assisting you. If you need help from the fire department ... They're right there ... We just work well together."

Hanlon calls Oskaloosa's first responders of all departments a family.

As first responders, what Lang and Hanlon most want the Mahaska County community to know is that they're ready and willing to help.

"We are here for the community and we're here 24/7," Lang said. "Anytime they call 911, we're here for them. We ask for a little grace at times that we're really busy, and that they understand don't be afraid, if they're in dire need, to give us a call, and we'll definitely respond."

Lang and Hanlon spearhead a team that's ready and equipped to serve, and it's clear that they love their jobs.

Hanlon left one last piece of parting advice:

"No matter how much [people] try, we do not accept tips!"

Channing Rucks can be reached at