EMTs, firefighters provide emergency services in remote Park Valley
Story by Dianna Troyer
A woman with heart issues needed medical care at a hospital but refused to go in an ambulance until Bruce Pugsley, an emergency medical technician in Park Valley, intervened to reassure her.
“I didn’t know her, but I do know that sometimes when people are scared, they need a little extra care and to simply feel safe,” says Bruce, 76. “In some cases, they just need a hand to hold and someone to talk to.”
He held her hand for the 75-mile ride from Park Valley to the nearest hospital.
“We do what we feel is best for the patient at the time,” he says.
Bruce, the longest serving member of Park Valley’s Emergency Medical Services squad, has been an EMT for 43 years.
“I grew up in the area, and when I moved back, I wanted to be of service to the community, so I became an EMT and later a firefighter,” says Bruce, who at the time was working at Thiokol as a manufacturing engineer and a computer services provider.
“We have really dedicated EMTs,” he says. “Most of them are also firefighters.”
Bruce is among 11 EMTs and 20 firefighters providing emergency services to passersby and about 300 residents of Park Valley and Rosette in remote western Box Elder County. They cover a vast area from Snowville west to the Nevada border and from the Idaho border south to Tooele, Utah.
The valley’s EMS program was established in 1979 when local volunteers earned their EMT credentials and were provided with an ambulance by the county.
A year later, Bruce was certified as a basic EMT and joined the crew. Eventually, he became an intermediate EMT, an advanced EMT in 2005, and an instructor.
“There’s a huge need for emergency responders,” says David Morris, a rancher as well as Park Valley Fire Department fire chief. “We’ve had as many as 70 incidents a year and as few as 25.”
Since becoming an EMT in 2015, David was recognized in 2019 as Utah EMT of the Year by the Utah Bureau of Emergency Medical Services and Preparedness.
At the awards ceremony, bureau Director Dean Penovich described him as “the one you can always depend on who responds any time of day or night on nearly every call.
“He stays on the scene sometimes for several hours, cleaning up broken glass, gathering, protecting and securing the patient’s belongings, and helping officers and tow truck drivers,” Dean says.
The Hardest Emergencies
Bruce says the EMS squad responds to wide-ranging emergencies—motorists in rollovers, injured hunters or rock climbers, or people four wheeling on the salt flats who hit a rut and crash. He estimates one-fourth of their calls are residents.
“The hardest incidents are farm accidents involving children or those needing Life Flight,” Bruce says. “Sometimes, seeing what someone has been through makes it hard to sleep.”
When rancher, EMT and firefighter Will Kunzler arrives at an accident, he wonders who needs help.
“You hope it won’t be someone you know who is hurt, but if it is, you want to be the one to help, to be a familiar face,” Will says. “Whoever we’re helping—whether someone in the community or a stranger—you don’t think about it. You just
jump in and do whatever needs to be done.”
When a serious medical incident or accident occurs, EMS squad member Michele Green says residents have told her they feel reassured to have someone they know offering help, medical knowledge, and an explanation of their options. Michele is a longtime EMT, instructor and firefighter.
Bruce’s decades of experience and reassuring demeanor have inspired local EMTs.
“He’s been a mentor to many of us,” Michele says. “He quietly works in the background to get things done. EMS is definitely a community effort.”
Even children support the services, proudly helping to wash the new ambulance— the first new ambulance ever assigned to Park Valley.
The ambulance was funded by grants that the county’s Emergency Medical Services Director Corey Barton wrote in 2021 before retiring.
To keep their skills honed, emergency responders do monthly hands-on training, including a vital course about vehicle extrication taught by the Utah Fire and Rescue Academy.
“We learned so much last year and have applied it since then,” Will says. “There are weak spots on a car, certain places to cut. You can roll back a dashboard if it’s trapping someone, or chop and peel off a roof. We’ve got all the basic tools to get the job done.”
Arriving at an accident, responders analyze the best ways to solve a lifesaving puzzle to remove victims from a crumpled vehicle as quickly as possible. They might smash the windshield or side windows, and pry, cut or saw the metal.
Will, 32, says responding to accidents and fighting fires fulfills a childhood dream.
“I always wanted to be a firefighter and joined the department as soon I could when I was 18,” he says. “The adrenaline rush of putting out a fire drew me in.”
A steadfast volunteer, Will often rode with EMTs to lend a hand.
“I was going out anyway, so I took the EMT class about a year ago,” he says.
His wife, Danielle, also enrolled.
“Before the class, all I knew was how to do CPR,” she says. “We live so far from medical care, so I wanted to know what to do in case of a medical emergency to be able to help someone and contribute. Since passing the EMT test, I don’t feel so helpless anymore.”
To volunteer for the fire department or ambulance crew, call David at 435-279-3892 or Will at 435-230-3989.