BATTLE CREEK, Iowa | Chris Wallace's pager went off Monday morning, directing him to Horn Memorial Hospital in nearby Ida Grove, Iowa, for a patient transfer.
Wallace, 37, moves dirt as a heavy equipment operator for Wallace Construction in Battle Creek. He moves patients as an ambulance driver in Battle Creek.
"In the winter, we don't work much moving dirt," said Wallace. "So, I move snow and I've driven the ambulance the past six to seven years."
Wallace was joined on this trip by two EMTs and a nurse, transporting a patient who was in need of a run termed "advanced life support."
Like all ambulance runs, this was serious. Mother Nature made it treacherous.
"We had rain and thunder during the morning at Battle Creek, which was kind of crazy," Wallace said. "We went to Ida Grove, got the patient and headed to Mercy Medical Center in Sioux City."
Wallace and his crew ran into snow on Highway 20 somewhere between Correctionville and Moville, Iowa. As they approached Sioux City, road conditions grew worse.
"We drove 40 to 45 miles per hour from Moville to Sioux City, running lights on the ambulance," he said. "But once we got into Sioux City, it was absolutely horrible with cars and trucks stuck all over the place."
Wallace navigated the 2012 Ford F-450 off Gordon Drive to Fairmount Street and then on to Sixth Street en route to the hospital. The crew dropped off the patient, whom he termed as "stable."
"Someone at Mercy had called one of the EMTs and told us that if we hadn't gotten far, we should turn around and go back," Wallace said. "But, by that time we were already past Moville, so we kept going."
The ambulance driver stayed at Mercy for 15 minutes before heading back east to Battle Creek. He and the crew then endured a harrowing 2.5-hour drive home. The trip normally takes 60 minutes.
"I went 20 miles per hour on the drive home," he said. "We had white-out conditions from Sioux City to Holstein."
Not long after departing Sioux City, a pair of semi-trucks jack-knifed across two lanes of Highway 20, thwarting westbound travelers for a period of time. Law enforcement officials urged residents to stay home.
For an ambulance driver, though, that's not often a choice.
"At times I couldn't see the lanes," Wallace said. "I tried to stay right in the middle of the road. I got out once to knock ice off the wipers."
Wallace made it back to Battle Creek around 1:30 p.m. He called it the worst weather he's experienced as an ambulance driver. It reminded him of a night he and a buddy got stranded on a rural road in the midst of a blizzard. Wallace was 19 at the time.
"I was young and dumb and didn't make it that time," he said. "Me and my buddy were stranded all night. It was terrible."
This drive ended well. Wallace heard the patient was doing good, which topped his list of concerns.
Wallace, who isn't a volunteer, made $11 for his effort during the blizzard. That comes to about $2.45 cents per hour, I figured.
Wallace would tell me I'm missing the point. He doesn't drive an ambulance for the money. Nobody does. He does it to serve the people of Battle Creek, one of the dozens, if not hundreds, of unsung heroes throughout our region who drop everything to get a friend or a stranger to the hospital in their time of need, no matter the weather.
"When you're on-call, you get 50 cents per hour," he said. "We definitely don't do this for the money. I enjoy driving the ambulance. It allows me to give something back to my community."