Organized in 1897 to promote Community Service and Philanthropy in Ouray County, Colorado.

Ruth Stewart

A Rescue Woman  October 21, 2014

Dangling by a Rope

Story by Kathryn R. Burke

RuthStewart-gearShe’s a Paramedic with OCEMS and a member of OMRT. To those of us who would ever need her services, in layman’s terms Ruth Stewart is a Paramedic with Ouray County Emergency Medical Services and member of the Ouray Mountain Rescue Team. Whatever you call her, whenever you call her, Ruth Stewart is definitely the woman you want when you have an emergency.

“Every emergency is different,” says Stewart, who trained in both EMS trauma and medical events. “It’s a little bit of a puzzle. You talk to people. Ask the right questions. It’s interesting work. There is always something new to learn and do.”

Ninety-nine percent of the time, calls are fairly mundane. “It’s that one percent of the calls when everything needs to happen five minutes ago that are the big adrenalin rush.” Stewart says. “You have to be very on-the-spot. You don’t have a lot of time to process information or ask questions. Those calls are ‘on-you-feet’ decision making, or if a S&R call, it could be ‘hanging-from-a-rescue-rope’ decisions.

RedMtnRescueThe biggest calls are major trauma calls, such as a motorcycle accident, where every thing happens at once. Most calls, however, are related to minor injury or illness, perceived or real. The single biggest category of EMS calls, Stewart says, is “altitude stuff, tourists or older folks experiencing breathing and heart issues due to altitude.” EMTs can usually handle most minor incidents on the spot. Others must be transported to the hospital (Montrose) or, if very serious, to a medi-flight helicopter at a local landing zone such as Ouray Town Park, Ridgway Fairgrounds, Dallas Divide, or Yankee Boy Basin.”(There are 35-preplanned landing zones in our area.) From there, they can be flown to St. Mary’s in Grand Junction.

The EMT crew currently consists of 20 people, 11 based in Ridgway, four in Ouray, two on log Hill, plus three administrative/advanced life support folks. “When we’re scheduled to be on call, a 12 or 24 hour shift, we have to be within five minutes of the ambulance barn in either town.” Stewart explained. “We have four ambulances, including a high-clearance, back country ambulance, maintaining staffing for one in each town, so we can rotate them for maintenance.” Most team members are volunteers. Stewart is one of three who hold paid administrative positions. Not all members are local, so those—like the men who come up from Cortez or Montrose to cover some shifts, “hang out at the office or the ambulance barn when they’re on call.”

Ruth-climbingSearch and Rescue is a whole different situation. OMRT has its own vehicles: a large heavy-duty pickup with a shell and winch and a land cruiser for back country. There are several women, and six S&R members are ‘crossover’ serving as both EMTs and S&R crew. S&R isn’t a scheduled shift, like EMT, Ruth explains. “When your pager goes off, if you can go, you go!” They get called out about 20 or so times a year on average, mostly in the summer. “This summer has been a year of ‘Just stay on the hiking trail’ with multiple calls for lost hikers; we usually just guide them back to the trail.” Winter calls are frequently ice-park related.

Stewart’s most serious S&R call this year was when a climber fell on Mt. Sneffels in the late afternoon. By the time she and her team had geared up and hiked in, after and helicopter reconnaissance had located the patient, it was dark. He was in a precarious spot, so three team members camped out with him, and the next morning, a military Black Hawk did a hoist-lift at 13,900 feet and got him out. He was then transferred to a medical flight. “We packed up, hiked over the mountain and back down. Pretty epic!” [Read related story here.] It was an amazing rescue.

“Recalling that incident and some others, Stewart said: “I really like the rescue end of what I do. Most of all I like the rope work, working with the Ouray Mountain Rescue Team doing high angle rope rescue and patient care. My favorite place is dangling at the end of a rope, taking care of a patient on some random cliff spot.”

Up a rope or down on the ground, when you’re in trouble, Ruth Stewart is the rescue woman you want to answer your call!


Related Links.
Ouray Mountain Rescue Team
Ouray Mountain Rescue Team Retrieves Injured Rider from Lou Creek Pass. 07/22/14 | By Samantha Wright
Climbers Recount Daring Mt. Sneffels Rescue Mission. 09/17/14 | By Samantha Wright
Man Survives Single-Vehicle Accident on Red Mountain Pass. 09/01/14 | By Samantha Wright
Colorado Springs Man Rescued from Black Canyon.  05/08/13 | Watch Staff
Garbage Truck Plummets Off Camp Bird Road 08/14/13 |Watch staff


WCOC Monthly meetings are held from 1-3 pm on the third Tuesday every month in the San Juan Room of the Ouray Community Center. Regular meetings for 2013-14 feature “Uncommon Women: Uncommon Lives, Part III” with guest speakers who have interesting and unusual occupations for a woman. The public is welcome. Click here to view the list of past and future guest speakers.

Following the guest presentation, guests and members enjoy a social period with refreshments and an opportunity to view various projects and sign up for committee activities. The regular membership meeting follows, which addresses upcoming events and activities, shares “Cares and Concerns” with members, and reviews other membership business.

Members and guests are encouraged to bring items for the Ouray County Food Pantry.