If you’ve had a health emergency requiring an ambulance, you may already know Stephanie Byrnes. For over 15 years she has been an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) for Waunakee Area EMS. For most of that time, she was a volunteer. In March 2018, she became one of three full-time staff.
Byrnes is Captain of Administration, managing day-to-day office work and ensuring EMT coverage for all shifts. Certified as an Advanced EMT, she still goes on three to four ambulance calls per week as part of a backup team when the primary ambulance is busy.
Her quest to be an EMT started at the suggestion of a friend.
“A friend, an EMT in McFarland, told me ‘you should try this,’” she said. “I first applied to be a volunteer in Waunakee, but I wasn’t available when they needed help. So, I volunteered at McFarland EMS for a couple years.”
When Waunakee Area EMS had an opening that fit her schedule, she signed up there, too. For a while she volunteered for both. And this was all while she was working full time for AT&T. But when her first child arrived, her AT&T job and two volunteer roles were too much, and she focused her volunteer work only at Waunakee, where she also had joined the board.
“I didn’t know much about Waunakee Area EMS before I volunteered,” she said. “Once I got to know the people and how things are run here, I fell in love with it.
“Many people don’t realize we are mostly volunteers – we now have 55. Patients assume we are all full-time paramedics.”
Her volunteer experience piqued an interest in EMS as a profession, and she jumped at the chance to apply when her current position was announced. She applied, got the job, and left her 17-year AT&T job for a new career.
But in June last year, her new job took an unexpected detour. As a result of a screening mammogram, Byrnes was diagnosed with breast cancer. This launched months of chemotherapy, a series of surgeries, and loss of her long hair.
“I was pretty sick,” she said, “and off work for 3 ½ months.”
Now she’s almost done with her surgeries, and she’s doing well, proudly stating, “There’s no evidence of disease.
“The mammogram saved my life. I now appreciate life a lot more. It’s also given me new perspective to help patients. I’ve been the patient now. This experience helps me relate to them in a way I couldn’t have before.”
She is thankful for the support of her family, including husband Pat and sons Riley, 13, and Logan, 11. Pat Byrnes was born and raised in Waunakee and owns Byrnes Custom Construction. Their family also includes two dogs, a bearded dragon (lizard) and two hermit crabs. They have lived in Waunakee’s Centennial Heights neighborhood for 18 years.
Byrnes’s new EMS career and survival from cancer are evidence of her commitment to hard work. Another thing she’s particularly proud of is achieving a graduate degree at a very busy time in her life. In 2013 she received her MBA in marketing from Ashford University.
“When I started the degree, I had toddlers age 1 and 3, a full-time job and was a volunteer and board member at Waunakee Area EMS,” she said proudly.
Her undergraduate degree was from Winona State College in biology.
After years of working in a different field and managing an unexpected life crisis, she is comfortable and confident with the present and her future. She and her family love outdoor activities. Her personal passions include horseback riding and managing a clothing line that focuses on providing comfortable and fashionable clothing for women of all sizes. Her immediate new goal is to become a paramedic—a step beyond AEMT.
But mostly she loves working with Waunakee Area EMS volunteers. She’s now coordinating fund raising for a new display recognizing past and present volunteers. https://www.gofundme.com/volunteer-ems-monument
“Our volunteers give of their lives every day,” Byrnes said. “They leave their families at the supper table to go out on a run. It’s really special that people give of their time like that.”