Bruce Evans, Bayfield’s fire chief, planned to go into forestry until a car crash on his college campus in Iowa changed the course of his career.
“While I was studying one night, there was a car crash in front of the fraternity. ... I ran out to help, and when the ambulance showed up, there were only two people,” Evans said, remembering helping the crew carry emergency equipment during its response.
What followed was a 37-year career in emergency services. In that time, Evans took on national leadership roles, helped improve local emergency services and lifted his peers.
This year, Evans became president of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. In March, the town of Bayfield proclaimed an Upper Pine River Fire Protection District Day, praising both the district and Evans for his leadership during the coronavirus pandemic.
But the Upper Pine chief is not one to voluntarily boast. He credited his accomplishments to the peers and mentors who supported him.
“I certainly could be retired, drinking an umbrella drink on the beach somewhere,” Evans said. “The thing that keeps me coming to work every day is that I am just absolutely blessed to have an unbelievable workforce.”
Like many emergency responders, Evans followed generations of his family into the field. He started out on an ambulance based at a police department, then moved onto Mercy Ambulance in Las Vegas and the Henderson Fire Department. There, he launched a fire and ambulance accredited paramedic program, one of the first of its kind in the country.
He took on leadership positions in several associations, such as the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the Institute of Medicine’s Emergency Preparedness Committee. They’ve been talking about the likelihood of a pandemic for about 15 years, Evans said.
In 2011, he “failed” retirement and became the deputy chief at Upper Pine. About two years later, he took on the chief position.
Race against timeUnder Evans’ leadership, Upper Pine became one of the earliest fire departments in Colorado to start offering community vaccination clinics, which prompted a proclamation from the town of Bayfield praising the department.
“Even though a lot of people haven’t been touched by COVID, there are certainly a lot of people who have suffered catastrophic outcomes,” Evans said. “It’s our job ... to make sure we’re protecting the public here.”
The goal, he said, was to vaccinate the vast majority of the population, known as herd immunity, as quickly as possible.
All viruses develop variants, and one of those variants could eventually include an adaptation that makes vaccines less effective, he said. The faster communities reach herd immunity, the better off they’ll be.
He respects people’s right to choose whether they will receive the vaccine, but he wants to ensure they are making that decision based on the best information possible. He doesn’t want to see people in the back of the ambulance or bearing the weight of large medical bills because of COVID-19.
“It’s a race to get to herd immunity,” Evans said. “That’s where we’ll be able to get it contained.”
Lifting othersOne pattern in Evans’ career: He uses his national contacts and experience to lift his fellow emergency responders and improve local practices.
Evans is the kind of person who knows everybody, said Scott Sholes, EMS chief at Durango Fire Protection District. And he uses those contacts to connect others to opportunities, including Sholes.
Sholes was already involved in state-level work, but Evans pulled him into the national level through the NAEMT.
“I had the passion already for (EMS) safety. He helped me take it out to a greater audience,” Sholes said. “That was something that I don’t think I would have done without his guidance and support.”
Evans does the same with his employees at Upper Pine, said Jeff Dyar, Upper Pine board president, who has known Evans for about 30 years.
“The most important resource we have is our people and we’re going to go out of our way to take care of them,” Dyar said – a culture set by Evans.
In addition to his national leadership roles, Evans received the James O. Page Memorial Award, the highest national award in the field.
Under Evans’ leadership, Upper Pine has earned unique accreditations for finance management and ambulance services. Crew members have been connected with national opportunities in wildlife firefighting and emergency medicine.
If any Upper Pine families have an issue, Evans is the first person to dive in and take care of those folks, Dyar said.
“Our fire district has been extraordinarily fortunate and lucky to have someone of his caliber,” he said.
Pushing the envelopeAs the NAEMT president, Evans is tackling issues within the emergency medical services field, such as policy leadership and ambulance reimbursement. He wants to set up a mentoring program to support responders.
“There’s not enough people in the pipeline to replace the folks we’re probably going to lose after this (the pandemic),” Evans said. “The mentoring program is absolutely critical.”
Evans always has a lot of irons in the fire, juggling between tasks and looking up information on his tablet. (“Sometimes, we don’t know if he’s paying attention,” Sholes joked.)
“I think he has to stay busy. I don’t think he could sit still. ... It’s one of the characteristics that we develop in the profession,” he said.
Evans said he tries to stick to five priorities at a time, primarily family and professional projects – plus, his passion for model and full-sized trains.
He has a habit of pushing the envelope, thinking of ways to improve emergency services or recognize people for their work. “The comments will be, ‘There goes Bruce, the good ideas fairy,’” Sholes said.
“He’s one of the most passionate people that I know about emergency medical services,” Sholes said. “His passion goes beyond the street-level medic knowledge and patient care to a very high level.”
[email protected]An earlier version of this story included a photo caption that incorrectly identified Bruce Evans’ rank at Henderson Fire Department in Nevada.