Sedgwick County ambulance maintenance technician draws national honor

For nine years Mark Kemper has worked 60-hour weeks keeping Sedgwick County EMS’ ambulance fleet going.

Whether it’s changing the oil or pulling the box off an old ambulance chassis and putting it on a new one, Kemper’s work is his passion.

“If (the paramedics) say something’s wrong with an ambulance, that’s my first concern,” Kemper, 58, said. “That’s what motivates me.”

Still, the former preacher of 27 years who holds a master ambulance technician certification said he was both thrilled and humbled when he was named the 2010 Emergency Vehicle Technician of the Year by Fire Chief magazine, a national trade publication.

One of eight finalists, he received the award last month at the 2010 Fire-Rescue International Conference and Exhibition in Chicago.

“I depend a lot on what people say about it, and they say I deserved the award,” Kemper said Saturday. “The award took my breath away.”

The magazine said Kemper “is an integral part of raising the level of professionalism in emergency apparatus maintenance.”

The magazine specifically cited Kemper’s role in helping create a statewide association that offers advanced training and education to mechanics.

Kemper, along with Sedgwick County light equipment shop foreman Boyd Powers, started in 2007 the Heartland Emergency Apparatus Technicians Association, whose 30 departmental members include municipalities in Kansas and Missouri. The group holds twice-yearly training seminars for members. “We have close to 100 guys coming to our training now,” Kemper said.

Kemper’s motivation was to create access to low-cost training on new emergency vehicle systems without having to travel outside Kansas. Before he formed the group, he and his peers would have to travel for training put on by emergency vehicle mechanics groups in Colorado, Oklahoma or Texas.

“This is so successful that I now have to stay here and work and let the other guys in the shop go (for training),” he said. “It’s great when you start something that can go on without you.”

Kemper also is one of the key workers involved in a program the county began about five years ago to save the box -- the compartment that carries the patient, and lifesaving equipment and supplies -- and replace only the ambulance chassis.

That’s saved the county tens of thousands of dollars from not have to replace whole ambulances, county officials have said.