Young women meet emergency services need in Aniak

Posted: Sunday, September 30, 2001

ANIAK (AP) -- Last month three teen-age girls hopped out of their fire truck and extinguished a blazing smokehouse fire before any adult volunteers arrived on the scene.

The experience was fun, but not exceptional. The girls are members of the Dragon Slayers, a team of 13- to 20-year-old female firefighters and paramedics who function as part of the Aniak Volunteer Fire Department.

Every week they revive hypothermia victims, set broken bones and resuscitate people who have suffered heart attacks around the community 320 miles west of Anchorage.

Through practice, each girl learns what it feels like to hold someone's life in her hands.

''When they come up to you and hug you, and say thank you, its the best feeling you'll ever have, said Mariah Brown, 16, a petite girl with red-tinted bobbed hair and an ever-present rebellious expression.

The Dragon Slayers were started in 1993, largely because the department needed staff for daytime calls, according to Pete Brown, fire chief and police chief. The first were mainly children of parents who were already firefighters and wanted to join. The majority at first were boys, Pete Brown said.

The Dragon Slayers comprise half the team and are still depended upon to handle daytime calls. All teen-agers who are passing their courses and have completed Emergency Trauma Training, the American Red Cross advanced first aid course, and Basic Life Support, the American Heart Association's CPR training, are eligible to become Dragon Slayers.

The young women carry beepers to their high school classes and when calls come in, their teachers let them leave without hesitation.

Most acknowledge the adrenaline rush is one of the benefits of volunteering. It also helps to cushion them and keep them alert while they are working on patients, said Patricia Yaska, 17.

They're also skilled in procedures.

Last winter, a man drove into an open hole in the ice on his four-wheeler. The Dragon Slayers who responded knew they had to strip off his clothes and warm him with bottles and blankets. They also knew something more important to the patient's recovery.

''We have to treat hypothermia victims with the greatest care,'' Yaska said. ''If we are aggressive we can make it complicated. We can make them go into ventricular fibulation.''

''It's like a really, really fast, unproductive heartbeat,'' said Mariah Brown.

Their location in rural Alaska has allowed them to perform operations many other paramedics may never see in their lifetime, said Pete Brown. On a dark, windy night last month there was an accident in Kalskag and the helicopters would not be able to get to it until morning.

Brown and two Dragon Slayers, Yaska and April Kameroff, 20, navigated the foggy Kuskokwim River by boat. Three and a half hours later they found the patients, alive but in critical condition. One man had a fractured skull and punctured lungs.

''It was the most interesting call I've ever been on,'' Kameroff said. ''We were out for 17 hours. We didn't even have any food. Patti and I shared one plum.''

The team worked through the night and the men recovered.

''They will probably stay hooked for the rest of their lives,'' Pete Brown said. ''It gets in the blood. The adrenaline. People coming up to them and saying thank you for saving them.''

Kameroff is taking medical courses online and hopes to be a doctor someday. This winter she will go into Anchorage for certification as a phlebotomy technician. She may stay in Aniak to work, or she may travel elsewhere.

Many of the girls are more interested in medicine than firefighting, and most are inclined to go away for college. That's typical of the Dragon Slayers, according to Pete Brown.

One became a volunteer firefighter in the village, but most went on to other things. One is a diver in the Navy. Another is a paramedic in the Lower 48.

''These kids are overachievers,'' Pete Brown said. ''We'd love to keep them, but most of them don't stick around the village after they graduate.''


(Distributed by The Associated Press)

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