When an emergency strikes in the Flathead Valley, Mary Granger may or may not be physically present at the scene, but it is very likely that Granger somehow has a hand in keeping folks safe.
Granger retired as the Flathead County Emergency Medical Services manager in April. The six-year stint was a second career for Granger after working 33 years as a school teacher.
“I’ve been on this adventure since 1980 when I took a first-aid class and this is really the culmination of that adventure,” Granger said of her retirement.
Granger was one of the founding members of the Lakeside Quick Response Unit. At the time there was no first responder program in Lakeside, which sometimes meant waiting a long time for emergency personnel to arrive from Kalispell or Polson.
After the first-aid class, Granger was hooked.
She became an emergency medical technician and volunteered with the Quick Response Unit. She eventually became an instructor for the EMT class in 1986 and she estimates that she has taught around 400 emergency personnel. She plans to teach her last class in September.
“It’s been really rewarding to see the students and see them go back to their communities and volunteer to be a responder, but some of them also went on to be paramedics and some of them even went on to be doctors or nurses,” Granger said. “It sparked their interest.”
Granger said her two careers paralleled each other.
“When you are a teacher, you are there to help people,” Granger said. “When you are an emergency responder, you are there to help people. It’s just a different way of helping. The teaching blended over into the medical part of it and it was just natural that I would end up teaching the adults how to do this.”
After she retired as a teacher in 2004, Granger took six years off, but still volunteered as an EMT. In 2010 she made the decision to further her education and become a certified paramedic, which required two years of schooling at Flathead Valley Community College.
“Lakeside didn’t have paramedics and didn’t have access to advanced life support,” Granger said. “Kalispell was becoming less able to do our transports for us.”
At the same time, county officials had decided to create an Emergency Medical Services coordinator to help manage the many emergency response units in Flathead County. Granger’s predecessor lasted a few months on the job. She ended up setting the bar for the position.
“We would create a standard of care that would be uniform throughout the county so if you got injured you would receive the same type of care in one part of the county as if you got injured in the other part of the county,” Granger said. “At the time that was not the case.”
Dr. Richard Briles, the county medical director who supervised Granger, said Granger’s work has been impressive.
“Mary was the nuts and bolts of this thing,” Briles said. “It’s like if Apple lost Steve Jobs. That’s sort of what you are faced with here. It would be hard to make it better.”
In her position, Granger helped train responders, improve communications between separate response units and created a budgeting process of equitable disbursement of money.
“You’ll never find anybody say an ill word about Mary,” Briles said. “She will be missed and not only because of her competence, but I will miss her more than anything just because I enjoyed my relationships with her as a friend and a colleague. She will be dearly missed.”
Briles also pointed out the hard work Granger put in to get her paramedic certification in 2010 while working full-time as Emergency Medical Services coordinator.
“Mary would put in her hours all day at the office at the 911 building then at one o’clock in the morning there would be an ambulance coming in from Lakeside with Mary on board,” Briles said. “I don’t think she slept for two years. It’s just incredible what that woman has accomplished.”
Kalispell Fire Chief Dave Dedman echoed the praise handed down by Briles.
“Her dedication to this valley is what’s always impressed me — countless, countless hours of volunteering and course instruction and just being a true EMS leader for the valley,” Dedman said. “She’s been involved for 35 years. When I started 20 years ago, she was one of the senior people I looked up to and she’s still at it.”
Lakeside QRU President Brian Reed said Granger’s expertise as a paramedic is a great asset to the town of Lakeside, where there are very few certified paramedics.
“She’s a pretty amazing lady,” Reed said. “The service she is able to perform is just great.”
Granger intends to keep serving the community as a paramedic. By retiring a second time she will be able to volunteer during the daytime, when it’s hardest to round up volunteer responders who often have full-time jobs of their own.
Reporter Megan Strickland can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.