'Mountain men' start Mountain Medics

Lauren Steinheimer
Mountain Medics is a new business created to deliver a level of care above and beyond what's currently available. Shown left to right are co-founders Todd Wemmer, Chad McCall and Aaron Stutz.

Three local mountain men with decades of combined experience working in the medical, firefighting and outdoor industries joined forces to create a new business with an innovative approach to coordinating patient care that’s designed to save time, dollars and lives.

Mountain Medics is helping coordinate disaster relief and contracted medical care in an effort to meet the needs of rural northern California.

Formed in 2014, this privately-owned company is the brainchild of three good friends: mobile intensive care nurse Chad McCall, emergency physician Aaron Stutz and wildland firefighter/paramedic Todd Wemmer.

They shared the dream of creating a business that would draw on their combined skills and provide a valuable service to the region they all call home.

“Our goal is to provide a level of care above what’s available in our county,” McCall said. “We’re in the healthcare industry because we like giving back to the community. We’re avid outdoors people and we want to help support our local EMS system.”

McCall, Stutz and Wemmer developed the skills necessary to respond to medical crises while working in the medical field and playing in the backcountry.

They’re all skiers and climbers, and McCall and Wemmer have spent time working for the ski patrol and search and rescue team.

From those experiences, they all saw a need for a service that goes a step further than the existing patient care and transport system.

They don’t provide medical care, but coordinate contracted medical care from qualified physicians. Thanks to telemedicine, doctors are able to remotely diagnose and recommend treatment for patients via high-speed satellite internet.

Mountain Medics became certified to operate as a part-time ambulance service in June and spent the fire season providing remote medical support to fire crews in the Shasta-Trinity wilderness.

In fact, it was the health care needs of slightly-injured firefighters that drove McCall, Stutz and Wemmer to take action and start this business.

All three work for Fairchild Medical Center in Yreka, and saw anywhere from five to 15 firefighters delivered to the emergency room, some via helicopter, every day during the Happy Camp complex fire.

They said this recurring scene was frustrating because many of the firefighters had minor injuries. Furthermore, they said helicopter transport is extremely expensive, takes hours to arrange, and because Siskiyou County doesn’t have its own helicopter service, companies outside of the area need to be hired.

“Not only does it waste time and money taking them to the ER, it takes the firefighters out of the field and away from their work,” said Wemmer. “And that’s all taxpayer dollars.”

“When you see that, you really want to do something about it,” said Stutz.

With a 4x4 beast of an ambulance, backcountry skills and telemedicine technology, Mountain Medics attempted to remedy the issue during this year’s fire season by contracting with the Forest Service to provide remote medical care at a flat daily rate.

McCall showed a photo of a firefighter with two arms full of severe poison oak rashes. He said under normal circumstances, that patient would have been transported to the ER, but Mountain Medics was able to diagnose and treat him in the field, where he recovered within 72 hours and went back to work.

Mountain Medics has also contracted with regional outdoor recreation organizations to provide on-site medical care for large race events. They worked with mountain bike races in Ashland, Ore., and an adventure race in Tahoe.

Aside from the core team of three co-founders, Mountain Medics has two full-time employees. They contracted an additional 12 to 15 employees during the fire season.

McCall said they provided more than $100,000 in payroll over two months this summer.

Stutz said they hire local people as much as possible and would “really like to expand and provide more jobs.”

Mountain Medics shares an office in downtown Dunsmuir with geographic information systems technology company FireWhat?

Due to restrictions placed by the county board of supervisors, they’re only permitted to provide ambulance services two days per week, and only to Fairchild in Yreka.

They don’t respond to 911 calls, but can be reached directly by phone at 541-805-1977.

Mountain Medics hopes to obtain permission to provide full-time, unrestricted medical transport services in the near future. They all made it clear their goal is to provide an extra resource, not to compete with the existing ambulance system or 911 service.

“Another thing we do is free hospice transfers,” McCall said. “It’s a way we can give back and serve the community.”

Mountain Medics will be teaching classes at College of the Siskiyous in Weed this winter. A rope rescue class is scheduled for Dec. 16 through 18 and a critical care flight medic class Jan. 21 through 25.

Next fire season, they plan to provide a specialized rescue team capable of responding to disasters such as a tree falling on a firefighter.

“We want to become a self-sustaining company that can pay members of the community full-time wages,” said Stutz, who pointed out that Siskiyou County has potential to be a major hub for wilderness medicine, and he would like to see more resources for providing careers in that field.

For more information about Mountain Medics, visit their website or Facebook page