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Hettinger paramedic receives 'Stars of Life'

Dee Menke

The American Ambulance Association recently awarded Hettinger's Dee Menke a "Stars of Life" -- the highest honor an emergency medical services worker can receive.

One-hundred of the awards are given nationwide each year.

Menke is a paramedic and the EMS coordinator for West River Ambulance Service in Hettinger.

Working in emergency services means every day is different, she said.

"People entrust us to take care of them in their time of need and trust us to let us into their house and world and help them out," Menke said. "You get to be a hero. It's kind of cool."

Menke traveled to Washington, D.C. to accept her award, which she received from former U.S. track star Bruce Jenner.

Menke has been an emergency medical technician since 1994 and came to Hettinger in 1999 to work as a paramedic. Menke's husband Steve also works in the medical field as a nurse and paramedic.

"We always had two or three jobs and worked opposite shifts so I guess we were trained into it," Menke said. "It is a different kind of life, because you don't always have the freedom that you want to go do things and with trying to juggle our two schedules is tough."

Menke is the second of the ambulance crew to receive a "Stars of Life," said Jim Long, West River Health Services CEO.

"It is quite an honor for her," Long said. "She really is an outstanding paramedic that puts a lot into that but also provides education. She's a nice lady who does a heck of a job."

After surviving an ambulance crash in November due to bad weather, Menke said she feels lucky to be alive.

"There's not many people who live through that," Menke said. "I took care of my crew and patient and we all made it back.

"If you crash in an ambulance, most of the people die, that's the bottom line. I never entertained the thought that we would crash, but yet always prepared."

Menke said she now realizes that she is a good paramedic.

"I would never pay much attention to people who said, 'I'm a really good paramedic or I'm a really good EMT,' because I always thought they should be learning everyday and that's not what I would ever say," Menke said. "After the wreck, it's the first time in my career that I could ever say 'I am a good paramedic.'"

The Menkes' have two children and five grandchildren.