rural EMTs

Right to left: Wendy McKain of Trenton, Nebraska, and her daughter Samantha Rife of Stratton, Nebraska.

Deep in remote Nebraska farm country, a mother and daughter are learning a whole new way of life together, and the meaning of teamwork.

Wendy McKain, the village clerk for Trenton, Nebraska, and her daughter Samantha Rife of Stratton, Nebraska, eagerly began a year-long class to become certified emergency medical technicians. It was a calling that McKain couldn’t deny any longer, after listening to call after call of gut-wrenching pleas for an EMT on the police scanner in her office.

“You hear them paging once, then twice, and ... if no response, EMTs from farther away are paged to respond,” McKain explained, adding that the wait could sometimes be 30 minutes. “I want to provide faster service.

“Our EMTs are getting older — most in their 70’s. My mom’s got some health issues. This would help me take better care of her, and better care of the community. I work right across from the ‘ambulance barn,’ so if there’s an emergency, I’m right there.”

McKain and Rife are two of the three non-traditional student recipients of this year’s Nebraska Rural Radio Foundation Scholarship in honor of Max and Eric Brown, which will help them buy supplies for their new occupation, like a stethoscope and first aid kit.

“My mom and I actually work in the same office,” Fife said. “We’ll just switch while we’re working. I’ll be on Stratton and Trenton’s EMT list. So, if I’m home, I could go on calls in Stratton. There’s a possibility ... I could drive from Trenton to Stratton before they’d page twice.”

A mother of four, Rife works full-time and is also a waitress.

“After working several weeknights, now I work just one night since starting EMT class,” Rife added. “It’s a short enough program to adjust my schedule.”

The 10-month EMT program is offered through nearby Mid Plains Community College in McCook, but the instructor travels to the Trenton ambulance barn to teach the class.

Stratton’s volunteer ambulance crew was willing to pay Rife’s entire tuition for training, to include her on their squad.

“But I told them I got the scholarship, so they could keep that money for things they need,” Rife said.

Currently, the EMT students are able to take vital signs and ride along on ambulance calls. Following graduation next May, McKain and Rife will take the National Registry test to become certified.

McKain is passionate about balancing the family’s 80-head of cattle with the rural need for first responders. To that end, she and her husband Leo McKain started downsizing their livestock.

“Pasture is getting harder to find here,” she explained. “We both farm part-time, and have full-time jobs. Previously, Leo also farmed his mother’s acreage, until she passed away and her land was sold.”

McKain also has a doctorate degree in business administration from North Central University, which she earned online.

“Public administration is part of my degree, and if we retire, I can teach classes online for some income,” she added.

The third recipient of the scholarship, Caitlin Pittman, of Gering, Nebraska, is a Certified Nursing Assistant at Regional West Medical Center in Scottsbluff, Neb., and began her program in August. Pittman is bridging a registered nurse to paramedic program to better serve her rural Nebraska community.

Sponsored by the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation, the Rural Radio Foundation Scholarship is an annual award given to agricultural producers and rural residents pursuing post-secondary education to better live in and be of service to their communities. Nebraska Farm Bureau plans to invite applications next spring 2020, continuing their mission to help provide access to emergency services and health care for Nebraska farmers and ranchers, according to NFBF executive director Megahn Schafer.

As Rife put it, “I think it’s time for the younger generation — I’m one of those — to start stepping up and be part of the EMT program.”

For more information about the scholarship, visit

Amy Hadachek can be reached at

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