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DENVER (KDVR) — Denver Health paramedics are often first on the scene of an emergency. And when seconds matter, they make life or death decisions.

FOX31 joined them on a ride-along to see how they do their jobs and how they are holding up during the pandemic.

If you need help, Denver Health paramedics are just minutes away.

“We work 24/7, 365 days a year. We work holidays and weekends,” Lt. Will Hargreaves said.

Within minutes of joining the ride-along, the paramedics were dispatched to a woman in need of help. The fire department was already on the scene when we arrived.

“She’s been having abdominal pain and other issues, so when there’s nothing else to do, call 911 and we are happy to help,” Hargreaves said.

Paramedics load her into the ambulance, taking the time to gather up her belongings as well.

“That stuff is very precious to them so we do our best to keep track of that kind of stuff and make sure it goes with them,” Hargreaves said.

It’s off the next call, which was a stroke patient. Then a shooting victim.

“With a penetrating trauma call like this, we try to keep our scene time under 4-5 minutes,” Hargreaves said.

More than 100,000 calls a year

Cassidy Quintana’s been a paramedic for one year and was an EMT for five years before that.

“I like that it’s a lot of go, it’s fast, it’s fun. You get some adrenaline, but you are also helping people,” Quintana said.

Jeff Baker has been on the job for 12 years.

“We are so well-trained and we understand our protocols and we understand we have to make these decisions in the best interest of our patients,” Baker said.

In a typical year, Denver Health paramedics respond to more than 100,000 calls and take more than 70,000 patients to the hospital. Denver Health is just one agency facing a shortage of workers. Right now, they are down about 40 paramedics.

“It’s been very challenging. Not only have we been the busiest I can remember, but a lot of our patients have been very sick. A lot of trauma, a lot of sick medical patients. You really hope you can do the best for each and every one, despite how busy you are,” Quintana said.

‘We get to go home every day knowing we helped a lot of people’

“It’s mentally and emotionally taxing. We see people in desperate situations having really bad days, and it’s stressful to deal with. We have life and death decisions that we need to make really quick, in dangerous situations, because not everyone wants us to be there,” Hargreaves said.

“Coming to work with the hospitals understaffed, it funnels down to us and we sometimes struggle with finding a hospital to go to, which makes the job even more difficult,” Baker added.

Adding to the difficulty: COVID. After the call, they take the ambulance to the garage to be decontaminated and ready for the next patient.

“It’s a challenge, but it’s a rewarding challenge. It’s not like any other job you will ever work. Every day will be a surprise for you,” Quintana said.

“Honestly it’s very flattering that people ask us for help. We do a lot of training and we work really hard to know how to help them. And when we are asked for help, we are all happy to do it. We get to go home every day knowing we helped a lot of people,” Hargreaves said.