(Wessington Springs, SD)—A typical June day ended with a significant health emergency for Blake Willman, a volunteer firefighter and market president of American Bank and Trust in Wessington Springs.
The Wessington Springs Volunteer Fire Department responded to a house fire shortly after lunch time in early June 2023. It was a very hot, humid day, Willman said, and the fire was extremely smoky. The house ended up being a total loss, and two of the owners’ pets died. Three firefighters, including Willman were taken to the Avera Weskota Memorial Hospital in Wessington Springs for smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion. A fourth sought treatment later for symptoms from the fire.
“For me personally it probably took me longer than it should have to realize (I was injured),” Willman said. “There was a lot of adrenaline. The house ended up being right next to my parents’ house so when I first drove up to the scene it looked like their house was on fire.”
He and his fellow firemen went to work trying to keep the fire from spreading and to get it extinguished.
“One of the EMTs said ‘Hey, I think you should take a break and sit down,’” Willman said. “I drank some water, and I thought I was feeling better, so I went back to work.”
Willman continued to fight the fire until he started feeling disoriented and dizzy. He couldn’t control his cough.
“Probably the one that scared me the most was my heart was really racing and I couldn’t get that to go down,” he said.
He went back to the ambulance, and the EMTs made the decision to take him to the hospital for treatment. At the hospital Horizon provider Katlyn Rostyne, CNP, administered an IV and gave him some shots to counteract the smoke inhalation.
Clinic staff brought Pedialyte to the firemen still on the scene to help their electrolytes and keep more of them out of the hospital, a step Willman said they weren’t obligated to take. Rostyne also took the initiative to call Willman the next day to follow up on his health.
“I thought that was probably care that you only get from a community health care center like Horizon,” he said.
The proximity of the health center was another important factor in the recovery of Willman and his fellow volunteers. Without having a clinic and hospital right down the street their care would have been delayed at least 45 minutes allowing their symptoms to become more severe and possibly causing greater damage to their lungs and health.
“Getting access to that care was vital to helping me recover,” Willman said. “I was able to get shots. I was able to go home to my own bed and recover there. Even when I was recovering at home having that local connection of being able to be treated in your own town — I wouldn’t have had that if I’d been treated in Huron or Mitchell.”
Willman says he sees parallels between the volunteer fire department and Horizon.
“As a fire department we do our best to take care of the community,” he said. “They surely try their best to serve the patients of Jerauld County.”
Willman also sees the economic benefits of having residents get their care in their own community. When a patient goes to a larger town to seek health care, they also might buy gas and go shopping.
“That’s tax money that leaves here and that’s money that our local retailers aren’t getting,” Willman said. “It’s huge having an organization like Horizon in our community.”
Horizon providers live and work in their communities, treating small town residents with state-of-the-art health care you’d expect to find in a larger community. Besides that, Willman said those providers, nurses and staffs are weaving themselves into the fabric of their communities.
“These community health providers they’re not just serving the health needs of the community,” Willman said. “They’re providing doctors that live and work in your community, doctors and nurses and staff that contribute to building a community in these small towns.”
About Horizon Health Care, Inc.
For over 40 years, Horizon Health Care has been providing personalized, affordable, high-quality medical, dental and behavioral healthcare through a rural, community-based network in South Dakota. Horizon is a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) that serves the medical, dental and mental healthcare needs of South Dakotans in rural, medically underserved areas through 110,000 patient visits annually in 31 community health centers in: Aberdeen, Alcester, Bison, Bryant, De Smet, Eagle Butte, Elk Point, Faith, Fort Thompson, Howard, Huron, Isabel, La Plant, Lake Preston, Martin, McIntosh, Mission, Plankinton, Wessington Springs, White River, Woonsocket, and Yankton. For more information, please visit www.horizonhealthcare.org.