National Forests’ Medical Program Empowers Emergency Care Providers

The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests and Idaho Panhandle National Forests’ Emergency and Medical Response Program was one of two local programs recently recognized during the 2017 Regional Forester Honor Awards, an annual awards program which recognizes significant contributions to the U.S. Forest Service mission.

This program, pioneered by Zach Peterson of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests and Cody Hobart of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests, was developed to ensure trained, properly–equipped medical responders were available on both forests to assist with pre–hospital medical care for employees during emergencies in the field or office. This program empowers forest employees to obtain emergency medical training and obtain proper affiliation and credentials set by the State of Idaho.

Many Forest Service employees are certified in emergency medical services (EMS) and would not hesitate to assist a colleague experiencing a medical emergency while waiting for additional help to arrive. However, doing so within the framework of two separate government agencies can be challenging. While the State of Idaho has licensing and certification requirements related to emergency medical services, the Forest Service does not. Peterson and Hobart set out to develop a program to provide proper affiliation, credentials, and training to ensure Forest Service employees who provide emergency first response are in compliance with state regulations.

The first step in developing the Emergency and Medical Response Program (EMRP) was to obtain an EMS agency license from the State of Idaho. This was a critical step, as emergency care providers in the State of Idaho must be affiliated with a licensed agency. Working closely with the Idaho EMS Bureau, Peterson and Hobart completed the five-month process of obtaining an agency license for the forests.

“Honestly, it would have been easier for the Bureau to say ‘no,’” says Peterson, speaking to the challenges of a state and federal agency working through their different protocols. “Instead, they dedicated a lot of time and effort to make this program a reality by issuing the forests their agency license. We were very grateful for that.”

With the license in place, each forest established their EMRP by developing policy to formally recognize and authorize EMS staff to perform their duties. The forests determined how many EMS-certified personnel they could support, and set targets for the number of personnel that would be available during field work and projects on different units. They also ensured that state-compliant EMS provider kits were available at their facilities.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the EMRP is that it is entirely voluntary. Neither those spearheading the effort, nor the EMS personnel working on the forests, do this as part of their regular job description; Peterson, for example, leads the Nez Perce-Clearwater Forest Plan Revision Team. However, the team recognized the value that an EMRP could bring to their agency, and balanced the effort to create one with their regular work duties, as well as dedicating a considerable amount of free time.

Employees volunteering as EMS personnel across the forests are similarly dedicated. These individuals pursue training programs, sometimes lasting 30 days at a time, as a collateral effort in line with their regular work. The EMRP enables and encourages interested individuals to pursue EMS certification, and ensures that those who choose to do so are in compliance with necessary regulations.

Hobart credits these dedicated employees, as well as leadership teams on both forests, with the ultimate success of the EMRP.

“Our employees have wanted this for a long time, and their continued feedback created this opportunity,” he says. “Leadership from both forests listened and empowered the team to revamp our medical program by ensuring our providers have the support, direction, and resources they deserve.”

Looking forward, the forests will continue encouraging employees with existing EMS certification to apply those skills if an emergency situation arises at work, knowing they are operating under a licensed program. Both forests will continually assess their staffing to see where and how capacity can be maximized to provide emergency medical services on the forests. The team is also exploring ways to certify new EMS personnel, including providing funding for individuals to attend training courses.

“It’s a great feeling knowing we’ve improved our medical programs by providing support, direction, and resources to our medical providers,” says Hobart. “I’m eager to see the program grow as we continue to evaluate our program needs.”

For more about the 2017 Regional Forester Honor Awards, please visit


EMRP Regional Forester Honor Award 2017














Photo: Emergency and Medical Response Program team members from the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests and Idaho Panhandle National Forests were joined by Forest Service leadership for the presentation of their Regional Forester Safety Excellence Honor Award. From left to right: Cheryl Probert, Kurt Steele, Mary Farnsworth, Mark Decaria, Brett Rogers, Zach Peterson, Mike Behrens, Cody Hobart, Leanne Marten, David Schmid, and Jane Darnell. Photo by Joni Packard, USFS.