As EMS Provider of the Year, Klingman is proud but humble

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EMT Matt Klingman (center) was recently recognized as EMS Provider of the Year for the MercyOne Elkader Ambulance Service. He is pictured with EMS Manager Chris Dahlstrom and paramedic Billie Jones. (Submitted photo)

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


“A lot of people saw a lot in me, a lot more in me than I felt or saw in myself.” 


Some people are humble by design and some when it’s convenient, but others, like Matt Klingman, who provided the above quote, might just be the genuine article. 


Growing up on the family dairy farm between Volga and Strawberry Point, Klingman inherited several qualities from his parents—like tenacity from his father and compassion from his mother. After graduating from Central in 1986, he eventually followed both their career footsteps, which requires those qualities, while also finding a sense of purpose with each stop along the way. 


The first was serving in the United States Army from 1986 until 1990, similar to his father, who served from 1958 to 1961. But when Klingman came home, life on the farm was no longer for him. He was bound for a new purpose. 


Klingman watched his father, who owned his own shop for a time, work on and fix farm equipment. Along the way, he developed the same mechanical knack, so he went to work as a mechanic in Manchester and at Brown’s in Elkader in the mid-1990s, before settling at Brown’s in 2000. 


Around 2005, Klingman also moved to Elkader with his wife Sabine, whom he met in the Army while stationed in Germany. The two met while Sabine was working as a bartender and she, like many others, saw something in him, though Klingman joked he “still hasn’t figured out” what it is. 


Together, they have three kids, and moved to Elkader because it was familiar. After all, Klingman had gone to school at Central, his job was there and, for Sabine, who grew up in a smaller town on the other side of the Atlantic, it just felt right. 


After settling in, Klingman started looking for things that would provide a little extra purpose, some way to give back to the community through volunteering or public service—something to work toward and combat the feeling of being at “loose ends.”


He joined the fire department in 2006, where he remains a member. But it was a year later when someone else saw something in him that he didn’t see himself. 


On the advice of a fellow firefighter, who thought Klingman would be a good fit for what was then known as the Central Ambulance Service, he started driving the ambulance in 2007. This followed in the footsteps of his mother, who was a member of the Strawberry Point Ambulance Service from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s. The EMS field is an expression of the quality of compassion and it has always held a “good place” in Klingman’s heart. 


As a driver, which ties in with the mechanical side of Klingman’s personality, he oversees maintenance of the fleet of ambulances for what is now known as MercyOne Elkader Ambulance Service. Klingman spent the next 10 years as a driver, which is an essential component of an ambulance crew, since they are responsible for the equipment and getting the entire crew and patient back and forth safely from the scene. 


Being a driver, working on the chassis and brakes and doing oil changes, along with routine rig maintenance, was fulfilling. It scratched Klingman’s need for a sense of purpose and allowed him to use his knack for finding mechanical problems and solving them. Then, someone saw something more in him.


A fellow paramedic thought Klingman would be a good fit for the crew as an EMT. He was reluctant at first. A creature of comfort, there was purpose behind the wheel of the rig, and becoming an EMT was a boundary Klingman wasn’t sure he wanted to push past. 


However, the idea of serving the community, the fact he was raised to do for others and a spark of tenacity helped Klingman overcame his “normal mindset.” Over the winter months of 2017 and 2018, he took and passed the EMT training course and became a certified emergency medical technician basic.


Klingman and others on the crew “run across a lot of people that are having probably the worst day of their life, and we have to take that into consideration and we have to get them where they need to be,” he said.


Being an EMT is much like being a mechanic, just solving human symptoms rather than vehicular ones. In both cases, you’re “solving a puzzle and playing detective,” as Klingman put it. 


When you arrive on any scene, you’re immediately looking for hints, tips and clues, while also doing vitals, performing an initial assessment, providing interventions as necessary, pulling patient history, conversing with them and bystanders and surveying the situation to solve the problem. Regardless of the scene, whether it’s in someone’s home or at an accident, Klingman is constantly assessing and talking, and always interacting with the patient before rolling back to the hospital, doing secondary assessments along the way. 


“You prepare for the worst, hope for the best and take what you get,” Klingman said. 


Klingman remembers his first call as an EMT, a high school kid who passed out after lifting weights and over-exerting himself. It was a far less dramatic experience than the second call of his career, where an elderly driver crossed the center line and crashed into three motorcyclists. Said Klingman, “I went from ‘Boy, this is easy. Quick, nothing to it,’ to ‘Oh, shit.’”


Klingman responded to 51 calls between June 1, 2023 to May 31, 2024. He continues to work 72-hour shifts every other weekend, having cut down on his hours recently due to age, a change in work schedules and mental health reasons, “finding it harder to deal with things.” 


One of the hardest parts of being an EMT is losing patients, and while Klingman can’t tell you how many he’s saved, he could tell you how many he’s lost. 


It’s a fact of life for an EMT, one Klingman shared has led to fellow crew members leaving the field, unable to disconnect or compartmentalize the emotional impact. While Klingman believes he is capable of doing this, he also admitted “it’s tough.” Two calls “have stuck with” him, even though there was nothing he could’ve done differently. Still, there are times when he thinks back on calls and scenes and goes over the mechanics.


“In my words, I put it in a box and put it on the shelf. It never completely goes away. It’s always there. And every so often, my brain will pull the box off the shelf and open the lid and I’ll revisit it and look at it again, and then put the lid back on the box and put it back on the shelf,” Klingman said. 


Over his 17 years, Klingman has made an impact on the rigs, the crews and the community. Even if he doesn’t see it, others do, and recently, other people saw something in him that was deserving of an award. In April, MercyOne started accepting nominations for EMS Provider of the Year, and among those nominees was Klingman, who actually received three nominations this year. 


According to MercyOne EMS Manager Chris Dahlstrom, the criteria for nominees includes displaying superior patient care by being a good advocate for patients and their families, while demonstrating professionalism in interacting with patients, families and other medical professionals, demonstrating a commitment to continuing education and working with peers to foster a positive work environment.


Dahlstrom nominated Klingman this year, and stated Klingman “has excelled to become a great EMT,” while getting things “done safely and efficiently.” 


He also noted Klingman is a “leader and is well recognized by the crew,” even commenting how he loves to sit around and talk to Klingman about “old times.” 


“Matt is looked upon well by all his peers and has great patient care skills.  Matt is always willing to learn new things and is a very active part of the team,” Dahlstrom said. 


In being awarded EMS Provider of the Year, Klingman was in “disbelief.” Though is “proud” to have won it, he sometimes feels like he “didn’t deserve it,” believing “other people have done more” than he has. 


“I realize this is a peer reviewed thing and your coworkers, your peers, your crew members are the ones that make the difference, because they’re the ones that are in the trenches with you, day in and day out. And, you know, I appreciate that they felt that I deserved this award and spent a lot of years, put a lot of time in on the ambulance service. It’s really nice to be recognized for it. That’s probably about the most I’m going to talk myself up,” Klingman said. 


Those peers all saw something in Klingman that he doesn’t always see in himself. It’s probably what the patients see when he arrives on scene to help them, which is why he started the job 17 years ago and why he continues to do it today: to help people.

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