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Nurse sports second cap – a firefighter’s helmet

Three days a week, Krista Pritchett works as a licensed practical nurse (LPN), taking care of patients on the 7th floor at St. Anthony’s Medical Center. The rest of the week, she might be driving a fire truck, directing co-workers at a fire scene, or assisting accident victims before an ambulance crew arrives.

Pritchett, 33, is captain of the 105-square-mile Doe Run Fire Protection District near Farmington. She is one of only two women in the 30-volunteer fire department.

Pritchett grew up in Belleville, Ohio, the daughter of licensed practical nurse. But as a child, Pritchett had no desire to follow in her mother’s footsteps and resisted the idea of a career in healthcare.

Then, when she was a senior in high school, Pritchett spent a day on the job with her uncle, who had just become a paramedic. “I went with him on runs and watched him handle a car wreck,” Pritchett said. “I was mesmerized.”

In fact, Pritchett was so impressed that she enrolled in Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) training after high school. “I really, really liked it,” she said.

Pritchett worked as an EMT in Ohio for eight years. In 1992, she moved to Doe Run with her husband, Kevin, to help care for his mother. Both Pritchetts joined the Doe Run volunteer fire department.

After completing training, Krista Pritchett became an Emergency Medical Service (EMS) officer, in charge of the department’s first responders and EMTs who respond to vehicle accidents. She will teach a course for first responders this fall.

Three years ago the fire district board named Pritchett captain, third in command. “We live two miles from the firehouse, so I’m often the initial officer to respond and direct the fire suppression effort,” Pritchett said.

While Pritchett formerly fought fires, her asthma required her to change roles. She sometimes drives the fire truck to the scene, but her main responsibility is to help the men who are fighting a fire. She makes sure they take needed breaks and stay hydrated and, when indicated, checks their vital signs.

“The gentlemen respect me and trust me, which is very important,” Pritchett said. “If they didn’t, they wouldn’t follow me. I wouldn’t ask them to do anything I would not do.”

Pritchett said the fire department has received more respect from the public in the aftermath of Sept. 11. “People are more enlightened as to what we do,” she said. “Before, people thought we were paid or got reimbursement for gas. We pay for everything.”

Since 9/11, more people have applied to join the department, Pritchett said. “We have about 10 to 12 applicants who keep calling, but there’s not enough gear for them. That’s never happened before. This department has come a long way. In 1992 we had 10 people on the roster and five active volunteers. Now we have nearly 30 active volunteers.”

Pritchett’s husband is partially responsible for the department’s improvement. He now is fire chief and serves on the fire district board. Their son, Kurt, 10, also bitten by the firefighting bug, often goes on fire calls and hands out bottles of water to firefighters.

But firefighting always will be an avocation for Pritchett, who sees her career future in nursing at St. Anthony’s. She first worked at the Medical Center as a part-time phlebotomist while attending nursing school at Mineral Area College in 1998. After graduating with her LPN degree in 2000, she took a full-time job at Madison Medical Center in Fredericktown. Pritchett joined St. Anthony’s as a nurse in October 2002.

“I felt I needed to work at a bigger hospital to see more types of patients,” she said. “I don’t mind the drive because I like working at St. Anthony’s, and there are more educational opportunities available. I hope to join the hospital’s ‘bridge’ program within the next year or two to become a registered nurse.”

Once she earns her RN, Pritchett knows just where she wants to be – where the action is. She said, “I’m thinking about seeking a position in the Emergency Department, a critical care unit, the Cath Lab or Surgery.”

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