The Wonder From Down Under

karen boothe
Karen Boothe

By Ken Wright

Karen Boothe, the newly-appointed captain of the Salem Emergency Medical Association (SEMA), took a long route to get there, but Salem is fortunate that she did. Karen was born in Australia then schooled in New Zealand (Church College of New Zealand) and Hawaii (Church College of Hawaii- now BYU-Hawaii), where she met husband Steve. After school, they moved to Salem to be near Steve’s large family. Steve ran Boothe Brothers’ Music in Spanish Fork for many years before turning it over to son Daniel and long-time employee Curt Gordon.

Since five children were apparently not challenge enough, Karen found hobbies like marathons (22), half-marathons (too many to remember), mountain climbing (Kilimanjaro- twice, Mt. Whitney, King’s Peak- twice), backpacking (including the Inca trail ending at Machu Picchu), biking (Oregon Coast) and numerous iron-man and triathlon events. Her last two half-marathons were in October and November 2018. Did I mention she will be 64 years old in May?

Karen’s EMS “career” began in late 1986. In the days before Salem had its own ambulance service, the Salem city newsletter announced plans for a group of medical first responders. Their mission would be to initiate care for seriously ill or injured Salem residents while waiting for Spanish Fork ambulance personnel to arrive. Very interested, but late in the pregnancy of her fifth child, she took the application, but would have to wait a few more months. After completing the Emergency Responders course taught by Spanish Fork personnel, Karen was on her first “run” July 24, 1987. She remembers the call well; a serious car wreck in Spanish Fork Canyon. As the unit arrived at the hospital, she saw the mother of one of the occupants of the car, and several young children, all holding hands, as they entered the hospital. Although she already realized it to some extent, this experience further reinforced the fact that, in every emergent medical event, there are loved ones waiting and hoping your skills are good enough that day.

As SEMA moved to a full ambulance service, Karen took the courses to advance to Basic Emergency Medical Technician (EMT-B)(1988) and Intermediate EMT (now AEMT)(1989). Built of 5’2” of grit, determination, and leadership, Karen has served for many years in positions of responsibility, including crew chief, training officer, secretary, captain (’93-’94) and first lieutenant.

After 31 years, Karen can tell you about “the old days.” While all SEMA personnel now have an issued pager, in “the old days” they shared six pagers. The three on-call personnel had to meet the on-coming personnel who took three pagers from the charger with those being replaced by the pagers carried by the crew going off duty.

Also in “the old days”, before the ambulance, SEMA crews responded in the fire department brush truck with “jump bags” filled with minimal equipment and supplies. The first two crew members would arrive at the station and begin response to the location, while the third member would wait for the Spanish Fork ambulance and direct them to the location. Karen explained she would wait at the edge of the road in front of the open fields that are now Tractor Supply Company, Chevron Gas, and the businesses that include Main Street Pizza and Subway. The Spanish Fork ambulance crew would stop, let her in, and then head off to the call. A lot has changed.

Her advanced EMT skills have opened up some interesting opportunities in addition to SEMA. After meeting the wife of a movie set coordinator who had moved from California, the two women and another friend started a successful business as movie set “medics” for productions in Utah. This put Karen on the set of many productions filmed in Utah, including “Touched by an Angel”,  “Con Air”, “Yellowstone”, “Show-offs”, and the forthcoming Book of Mormon production by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Captain Boothe has also used her medical skills on multiple humanitarian ventures, including civilian assignments aboard the USNS Mercy in Timor Leste, Cambodia, and the Philippines, and in December aboard the USNS Comfort to Columbia. She’s been to Kenya twice with the humanitarian group, “Africa is Life Changing”, and with LDS Charities to Ethiopia and China. She regularly works as an emergency room technician at Mountain View Hospital where she picks up information that helps SEMA work more effectively with the staff there.

On more than one occasion, her emergency medical knowledge has resulted in advice or service to family, friends, neighbors, or strangers, even “off duty”, that made a significant, sometimes life-saving, difference.

Captain Boothe is an example to all around her. Christy Lowe, an Advanced EMT with SEMA said, “Karen is a great example of the kind of EMT I want to be. She is calm under pressure, skilled, and packed with a level of knowledge and experience I hope to reach some day.” Advanced EMT Kristin Ekins, who worked under Karen as a crew chief, said, “Karen it an incredible mentor. It seems like she knows everything, but she lets EMTs working for her do as much as possible and pulls their opinions from them instead of giving easy answers. That way, she lets them grow and build confidence while still ensuring the best patient care.”

Karena Fisher, RN Director of the ER at Mountain View Hospital, related that Captain Boothe is an excellent example of the special kind of EMS care in the South County. After moving here from Las Vegas, Karena was impressed by the dedication of volunteer EMS personnel and the connections between caregivers and patients who often knew each other in some regard from church, the neighborhood, the kids’ sports team, schools, or some other way. This was very different from the big city operation where professional, full-time emergency medical personnel and patients very rarely knew each other.

Remember the mother and children Karen saw at the hospital on that first call? Although they did not know each other at the time, they later served together in a church calling and became good friends.

Chief Brad James,  Public Safety Director for Salem City, said, “Captain Karen Boothe  is very  dedicated to the EMS profession, and I look forward to working with her. Her medical knowledge, experience, and personal commitment will be valuable as she leads and moves the S.E.M.A organization forward.”

Maybe you don’t have enough extra time to run marathons or travel the world on humanitarian missions, but if you are interested in serving your neighbors, friends, and family with potentially life-saving knowledge and skills, join us at SEMA. Training is provided. Applications are available at the Salem City office. Or, if you have questions email me at [email protected]