Remembering Valley’s first paramedic chief

Don Stangle

Don Stangle

Every time one of East Fork Fire Protection District’s ambulances respond to an emergency, their sirens are a testament to Don Stangle.

A memorial service is 1 p.m. April 27 at Minden Park for the former Douglas County and East Fork paramedic chief, who died on March 18.

“I always knew Don to be a pragmatic and dynamic leader, who poured his heart and soul into first creating what was originally known as the Douglas County Paramedic District and later the East Fork Paramedic District,” said East Fork Chief Tod Carlini.

Stangle was born May 25, 1954, in Salinas, Calif. The family moved to Carson Valley where Stangle grew up and was appointed a Douglas County deputy in 1975. He was already a Minden volunteer firefighter under the tutelage of Lawrence “Jake” Jacobsen. That same year he was appointed a deputy coroner, according to his biography.

In 1979, Stangle had been volunteering with the Minden Engine Company for five years and was a trained emergency medical technician.

“The calls we ran in Carson Valley were increasing and becoming more serious so the need for advanced life support was apparent to me,” he said in his biography.

Stangle said he pitched the idea of sending him for training in Los Angeles to Douglas County commissioners.

“I had budget numbers, call volume and letters of support from emergency room doctors,” he said. “I had also developed a business plan that further explained the program.”

He wrote that he was undergoing questioning by commissioners when suddenly a woman said her daughter was choking.

“I stopped, turned and went to the 12-year-old girl, who was in fact choking, and picked her up, turned her upside down and cleared her airway of a green Lifesaver.”

Commissioners took a break and when they reconvened, Stangle continued and the board voted to approve the project, and the county’s professional paramedic service was born.

But getting the training for Stangle and Dennis Atchison was just the first step. At some point someone was going to have to pay for the service.

In 1986, Stangle pitched establishing the Douglas County Ambulance District, which took effect July 1 that year. The approval came with a 4.3-cent property tax.

“While it took the efforts of many to establish the paramedic district, Don truly was the leaders of that effort,” Carlini said “With he and Dennis Atchison being the first paramedics, he later was able to hire several young men, like Bobby Wartgow, Bob Barett, Robert Lekumberry, Walt Kesteloot, Alan Anderson, and so many other great individuals in the early years of the program.”

Four years later, he would go on the campaign stump to get a 2-cent tax override to fund the district so they could hire a half-dozen new emergency medical technician.

Stangle recounted that he conducted 84 public speaking engagements over two months in support for the district.

“Don was very engaged with the community which is one reason he was able to successfully see the voters approve a tax initiative to support paramedic services,” Carlini said. “Some 30 plus years later that tax initiative is still in place and still supporting paramedic services throughout the Carson Valley.”

The ambulance and East Fork fire districts merged in the early 1990s

Stangle was a deputy chief on June 23, 1996, and had the duty when the Autumn Hills fire broke out. In the midst of the fire, Stangle was assigned a task force that was burned over as it retreated up Kingsbury Grade pursued by the fire burning on both sides of the highway.

“We noticed a spot fire start just a few 100 yards below us,” he wrote. “That occurrence was a sign that we were in danger and could be in the middle of an intense fire storm in a matter of a few minutes.”

Stangle got into his pickup and was able to evade the flames by backing up the Grade, though he couldn’t see through the smoke.

A Forest Service firefighter in another pickup down the hill in the flame’s path couldn’t get the vehicle started. He survived but a videographer who hopped into the rear of the pickup in the hope of catching video of the fire as they pulled away was severely injured.

“I nearly lost my life, and I then made the decision to retire,” Stangle wrote.

“I do feel that Don has left a legacy here and one which is supported by how we provide our paramedic services today,” Carlini said.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment