Trauma junkie: Killdeer woman goes from welding to emergency responder in oilfields
Malissa Smith calls herself a trauma junkie.
Those who know the Killdeer paramedic say she’s outgoing, and that her skill at putting people at ease extends beyond the medical battlefield.
“She’s fun and she likes to have a good time,” said her 16-year-old daughter, Macy. “She always knows how to make you smile.”
But Malissa’s work in the Oil Patch wasn’t always in an ambulance.
Smith and her husband, Tracy, started a welding business in 2005.
“I miss the oilfield,” she said. “… There was always something different to do.”
But her work in Killdeer, where she’s been for a year, still saves her from the consistency she hates.
“You get the sweet little ladies, and the trauma accidents on the oil rigs.”
Her work in the oilfield doesn’t just mean she knows the area — she knows the injuries, too, and can help prepare her coworkers with what to expect on the way to an incident.
“We got a call that a gentleman was hit by an elevator,” she said. “So I was able to say, ‘OK, it’s heavy, it’s big and it moves up and down.’”
Runs in the family
If an emergency were to occur at the Smith household, everyone would be OK.
Before getting into emergency medicine, Malissa had already been around the block. She grew up in Zap, tried college a couple times, nannied in Georgia for a while and later studied to be a vet tech in South Dakota. There she met Tracy.
Malissa and Tracy both had parents who were farmer-ranchers that owned bars in small Dakota towns. The pair met at a party and, two months later, they were living together. Within a year, they married.
“He had a nice Ford pickup truck,” she said with a laugh.
Malissa has taken her nine-month EMT class and 40-hour first responder course. Now, she’s onto firefighting classes.
Along with Malissa’s training, Tracy is a fire chief, Macy is on track to be an EMT at 16, the youngest age allowed, and 12-year-old Kenady is in the Killdeer station’s “KAAdet program” for youths interested in emergency medicine.
Macy said she wanted to be an EMT after tagging along to her parents’ meetings and on emergency calls.
“It snowballed,” the mother said.
Smith’s not done with new horizons yet — her ultimate goal is to be a helicopter flight medic. But until she gets the three to five years’ experience generally required for that work, she’s happy doing what she does.
While her main, paying job is as a paramedic in Killdeer. She is also a first responder in Mercer County.
Macy and Kenady say the sound of emergency calls is normal in their home.
“The pager’s constantly going off for something,” Macy said. “I’m pretty used to it by now. It’s kind of like a usual thing at our house.”
Killdeer volunteer ambulance driver Robert McClellan describes the way Malissa talks to a patient almost as if it’s magic.
“You can just see the patient calming down,” he said. “It’s just an art putting the patient at ease.”
As the paramedic, she is responsible for not only the patient’s safety, but also for the safety of everyone at the scene of the accident — including the volunteers.
And with that comes occasional tough love.
“She doesn’t beat around the bush,” McClellan said. “Sometimes we don’t have time for that.”
She can be gruff, McClellan and fellow volunteer Beth Grove said, but she’s in command.
At the same time, Malissa often uses humor to help ease the tension of a situation — like with a patient’s frantic loved ones.
She’ll often apologize after a run for her gruffness, but the volunteers understand. Grove and McClellan say Malissa gets along with everyone and is inspiring to watch.
“I spend more time with these people than with my family,” Malissa said of her coworkers at the ambulance station, which has a couch and a Keurig coffee machine that both look well-used.
“She might look a little rough on the outside,” McClellan said, “But she’s got a heart of gold.”
Passion keeps her going
Calls have skyrocketed for the Killdeer ambulance station, from roughly 50 six years ago to more than 300 a year now in its 968-square-mile service area.
And while Melissa says it’s disheartening having people’s lives in her hands but making less than a fast food worker in Williston, it doesn’t matter.
If she cared about money, she might still be in welding.
Her passion for the job is the reason why — the constant inconsistency, the excitement.
It’s more than a job for her, Grove said. It’s a calling.
After all, Malissa joked, “I can start an IV better on the back of an ambulance than in the ER.”