OSF PRO Ambulance at a University of Illinois football practice

As a paramedic, ‘you never know what you’re going to walk into’

Making a difference for his community and the people he cares for are what’s most important to Howard Marsh, an EMT-paramedic with OSF PRO Ambulance in Champaign, Illinois.

“We see people at their worse,” Howard said. “We go in their homes and make contact with them and their families. We deal with the stress of the loved ones. There are times you might be consoling the loved ones of a deceased person. You have to be sympathetic to people. You never know what you’re going to walk into.”

A career journey

Howard Marsh, Joyce Willskey, and Todd Jones standing in their office at OSF PRO Ambulance.

From left to right: Howard Marsh, Paramedic, alongside Joyce Willskey, Emergency Medical Dispatcher, and Todd Jones, Lead Paramedic. All three Mission Partners have been with OSF PRO Ambulance since the very beginning.

Howard, 64, began his career journey by helping organize a volunteer rescue squad in his hometown, St. Joseph, Illinois, located between Urbana and Danville.

“My brother was in a really bad car wreck – he was hit by a drunk driver,” he said. “He stayed out on a country road and waited forever for an ambulance.”

After that experience, “we decided St. Joe needed a rescue squad,” he said.

Howard took his first EMT class at Parkland College in Champaign in 1981 where he received EMT I-basic certification. From there, he and others got the rescue squad established.

“We ended up begging and getting a little bit of equipment and then we got a budget,” he said.

Taking the next step

After working at IGA for 18 years, Howard decided a full-time career as an EMT was his calling.

In 1987, PRO Ambulance, which became OSF PRO Ambulance in 2018, began operations, servicing OSF HealthCare Heart of Mary Medical Center in Urbana, Illinois. It is a member of the East Central Illinois EMS System, the largest EMS system in East Central Illinois.

OSF PRO Ambulance is an Illinois Department of Public Health licensed provider at the Advanced Life Support (ALS) level. It is staffed by skilled paramedics who provide patients with critical, life-saving care – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Howard was hired at OSF PRO in 1987 and went on to get his EMT-paramedic certification at Parkland and other training through the Illinois Fire Service Institute.

Mentoring others

Since becoming an EMT-paramedic, Howard has served as a mentor and has taught EMT classes at Parkland.

“Anybody can read a book. It’s the hands-on training people need to know and learn,” he said. “I tell people that before they take an EMT class, do a ride-along and see what you like to do.”

He admits it takes a certain type of person to stay in the career he has chosen.

“You get to meet a lot of interesting people. You have to have a good sense of humor. You have to have a good bedside manner, too,” Howard said. “You can be the best paramedic, but if you’re not very cordial or nice, they’re not going to remember the care you provided. I teach everyone to treat every patient like family, like you’d want your family to be treated.”

Being an EMT is a very gratifying job, Howard said. He especially appreciates being part of a larger emergency medical services family that includes firefighters and first responders from throughout the area.

“You have good days, you have bad days. It’s not for the weak,” he said. “A lot of calls you go on don’t have very good outcomes. But you try to remember the good calls. I still go home and rethink what happened and what differently I could have done.

“Next thing you know, you’re back in the rig and on to the next call.”

To learn about EMT opportunities at OSF HealthCare, visit osfcareers.org.

About Author: Lisa Coon

Lisa Coon is a Writing Coordinator for OSF HealthCare, where she has worked since August 2016. A Peoria native, she is a graduate of Bradley University with a degree in journalism. Previously, she worked as a reporter and editor at the Peoria Journal Star for 13 years followed by six years at The Register-Mail in Galesburg overseeing all daily assignments and the paper’s niche products.

She lives in Groveland with her husband and son. In her free time she likes to cook and read and spend as much time as possible watching her son play high school baseball and golf. She’s embarrassed to admit reality TV is a weakness, and she lives by the quote, “The beach is good for the soul.”

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Categories: Working at OSF