When Debbie Benally studied Communications at the University of Utah, she had no idea she would ever work in the medical field or become a valuable member of the San Juan County EMS family. Life is funny that way.
Debbie spent her younger years living in the small community of Saw Mill, Arizona, just five miles from Ft. Defiance, near the Arizona, New Mexico border. She explained that her clans are To'dikozhi-mothers clan, Tsi'naajinii-fathers clan, Dibe lizhini-maternal grandfathers clan, Tlogi'-paternal grandfathers clan.
Later, her family moved to Kearns, Utah and she attended Kearns High School. After high school she enrolled at the University of Utah. Her plans for a degree in Communications chang-ed, when she married her best friend, Pierce Benally, a native of Montezuma Creek, who was driving for Serta Mattress. Debbie left college and accepted a position with Skggs Drug Center in Retail/Home Center Management. She was employed by Skaggs for nearly ten years.
Debbie and her family eventually moved back to Montezuma Creek to be closer to Pierce's family (Eleanor Benally and the late Johnny Benally) and suddenly Debbie said she became an 'in-law' member of the community. She said she was lost, afraid, and living far from the city. But she found a passion for volunteering and became PTA President at Montezuma Creek Elementary School. Later she became a JOM Indian Education Committee member for Whitehorse High School and served for ten years. Currently, she is a School Board member for the Aneth Community School, where two of her grandchildren attend.
It was her husband, Pierce, who encouraged Debbie to take her first EMT class in 1993. He was an EMT for Montezuma Creek and was involved in Search and Rescue. He later became Fire Chief. Debbie passed the class, certified as an EMT and began a 22-year career serving the people of her community.
"I never thought of being an EMT until I moved down here and saw that it was so limited on services," Debbie said. "I kept thinking, who's going to save me or help me when it becomes my time? There were limited people and only one ambulance, and if they had enough to fill a crew fine, but what if they didn't. That always worried me."
According to Debbie, her passion for EMS has caused her to miss many holiday dinners, birthday dinners and social events over the past twenty-two years, while on call and responding to 911 emergencies. She said her services used to cover 24-7 when she lived in town because people would come to her house any hour of the day or night and ask for help.
"Being an EMT has taught me how to be strong, mentally and physically," she noted. "It was my duty to act and start treating the patient, and call for an ambulance to transport the patient to the nearest hospital. I have seen and treated all kinds of trauma and medical emergencies. Each one is different, never the same.
"The team I work with involves EMT's, Adavanced EMT's, Paramedics, clinic staff and sometimes we would call out firefighters and the police from various agencies," she added. "I work with these professionals every day. They are my EMS family. They come from UNHS and San Juan County EMS. We have each others back on good runs and on bad runs. We work together to bring the best possible service to our patients."
Debbie recently recertified her license to be a Utah EMT for another four years. She said being employed with UNHS is a dream come true.
"Our brand new EMS/ Transport building is a much-needed asset to our department," she noted. "Our EMS Director, Dustin Coggeshell, has surpassed our expectations in EMS. We are grateful to the UNHS Board members for supporting our mission and having confidence in our skills, knowledge and commitment to EMS.
"I think it is really exciting for everybody because UNHS is telling us, 'you are important to the community.' Like our jobs are important," she added.
Looking back over her twenty-two year career as an EMT, Debbie said she owes a great appreciation to her husband and her four children, Andrea (Alonzo), DeAnn, Pierce Jr. (Eugina) and Alisha. She also has six 'adorable' grandchildren, Jaidyn, Nateo, Malia, Traven, Anthony and Miss Kaylie. She said her family has always supported her passion for EMS.
"It was hard when my kids were growing up because I missed a lot of activities they were involved in. Once the pager goes off I have to respond. Somebody out there needs us," she said. "But my family understood how important this was to me and let me be me. How awesome is that? I am truly blessed in so many ways."
Debbie said it takes a lot of dedication and commitment to be an EMT for your community. She said she wants to be there to help people out when they have an emergency.
"I don't regret one minute. I have seen lives being saved and I've seen lives gone and I feel if I've made a difference then somebody can see that, and say I want to be an EMT. I'm hoping to be a good example for others," she added.
Debbie is currently employed part-time with JR Construction and part-time with UNHS. Her newest job with UNHS, besides being an EMT, is working as UNHS Non-Emergency Transport Dispatcher with Otis Oldman. We wish her well in her new position, but one thing you can count on, Debbie Benally will bring the same passion and enthusiasm to her new job that she's always brought to her work as an EMT. And she will continue to be an example to everyone around her and all those who might consider becoming an EMT in the future.