Paramedics Take What They Learn Working at Races to Refine Day-to-Day Skills
By Mark Robinson
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – They provide the most vital of services on any given IMSA race weekend, yet they’re probably happiest if they have nothing to do.
Members of the IMSA AMR Safety Team are ready to leap into action at a moment’s notice, attending to incidents on track, tending to the well-being of drivers involved, even assisting in track cleanup and repair. American Medical Response (AMR) has been IMSA’s Official Emergency Medical Services partner since 2019. It’s been a winning relationship for both organizations.
Randy Strozyk, Senior Vice President, Executive Operations for Global Medical Response (GMR), the parent company of AMR, said his company benefits not only from the exposure of providing medical services for IMSA, NASCAR and IndyCar, but that it highlights what AMR’s paramedics and EMTs do on a daily basis to save lives across the country.
“It’s a mirror of what we do day to day,” Strozyk said of AMR’s work in IMSA. “We respond to incidents of different magnitude and complexity. While we want racing to be safe, things happen. Our ability to take those skills that we do in the field in managing a call and bring it to a track seems to be a natural fit.
“The flip side is we’ve learned (driver) extrication techniques and stabilization techniques from our time in motorsports that benefit us in dealing with patients with entrapments and increasingly difficult physical situations. It’s been a phenomenal tool across the board for us.”
On a typical IMSA weekend, AMR provides two paramedics from a pool of about a dozen meticulously selected and trained to work in motorsports on top of their full-time positions with the company. The paramedics work in conjunction with the IMSA medical staff and track services that include local ambulances, tow trucks, flatbed trucks and more.
Each AMR paramedic is assigned to one of IMSA’s Porsche Rapid Response Vehicles.
“They’re assigned as the first response and they are the medical incident command at the scene of the accident, or they’re there to work with the overall scene commander,” Strozyk explained. “They take control of the medical needs and then they work in conjunction with the EMS responders who are at the track, either local ambulance service or firefighters, whoever is there. Extricate the patient, do the triage, make the determination of what levels of care are in conjunction with the local transport to the local care center at the track. At that point, they hand over care of the patient to the care center and then our team members go back to the track so racing continues.”
John Karuza has been an AMR paramedic for 20 years. A family tragedy led the 51-year-old from Spokane, Washington into the field. As a high school senior, he witnessed his grandfather die after going into cardiac arrest when an improperly equipped ambulance crew was unable to save him.
Karuza began working at NASCAR races in 2018 and added IMSA events in 2019. He enjoys the camaraderie and relationships he’s built with medical personnel across the country, but he’s just as grateful for learning new and better techniques he can apply to his daily job.
“Being able to travel and go to other places and see how they do EMS, and get to pick their brains, and how IMSA does things and how NASCAR does things, I’ve been able to try to bring some stuff back to my local operation and say, ‘Hey, this is kind of a neat thing that they do here. Is this something we can try?’” Karuza said. “It allows us to be more innovative and a little more creative.
“An accident in IMSA is not the same accident that you see on the freeway,” he added. “But there are components to it that you can put in place: the impact area, things like that. It helps you to really kind of anticipate what kind of injuries you might have with a regular driver on the street.”
Jackie Weaver, who has been with AMR since 2003, worked her first motorsports event at the 2020 Daytona 500. Her first IMSA race was also at Daytona, in July of last year. The 38-year-old also enjoys meeting an array of medical personnel and absorbing as much as she can to take back to her job in Portland, Oregon. While there are many similarities in working a racing incident and an accident on the public streets, there are noticeable differences she takes into account whenever the IMSA AMR Safety Team rolls into action.
“It’s like working an extreme car accident on the freeway but with cars going by you a lot faster,” Weaver said. “You have to be very situationally aware. Thankfully because of the safety features that people have implemented, most of the time drivers are fine, they’re able to climb out on their own and then walk over to the chase truck or the ambulance to get a ride into the care center and be checked out. Because of that, our job is relatively easy most of the time. But when something goes bad, it can go bad in an extreme way.”
“You always go in there thinking, ‘What am I walking into?’ I always think worst-case scenario and when it proves not to be that, that’s great, I’ve got my backup plan.”
During this, National EMS Week, which honors the work of emergency medical services personnel in the United States, Strozyk is appreciative of the dedication that GMR’s 38,000 employees exhibit – in motorsports and worldwide. He’s also thankful for the opportunity provided by IMSA President John Doonan
“I can’t give enough kudos to John for all his support,” Strozyk said. “It’s been an honor for us to work with everyone.”