Eric Polan, Base Manager
REACH 17 – Rancho Cordova, CA & REACH 50 – Sacramento, CA
Your business card says Program Manager, but if you could make up your own title, what would it be?
General Manager. People don’t really seem to understand what Program Managers do. Program Managers manage all of the daily operational functions at a base. That includes overseeing the employees, executing marketing projects and handling business development, among other things. We’re also attend county meetings, hospital meetings and so on.
How long have you been with REACH?
I’ve been here since September of 2014, but I’ve known the organization for much longer.
How many bases do you manage and what are your primary transport areas?
I manage two bases right now, REACH 17, our helicopter base in Mather, California and REACH 50, our fixed-wing base at the Sacramento Airport. In March, they’ll be combined into one base. They will each keep their base numbers, and my job will be the same, but it’ll be easier to manage things. It’ll put the aircraft under one roof. I’ll have eight pilots—four fixed wing, and four rotor wing—eight nurses, eight paramedics, two AMTs and a Clinical Manager.
One of the things that makes my job easier is that I have a great variety of employees, and I have a very solid base. Having senior employees helps make the new employee’s transitions go well. Larry Brown is our longest-term employee. He’s been with REACH since 2001. And I have several new employees who started in September. Everyone here is extremely passionate about serving patients in need. I’d say 80% of my employees work a second job in healthcare, either at a secondary ambulance company or in a hospital ICU or ER.
In terms of calls and service area, the majority of our transports are likely to be in counties like El Dorado, Calaveras, Yolo, Placer and Amador, and also the outer areas of Sacramento. It’s too soon to know exactly. The city doesn’t use us as much because there are so many hospitals. Overall, we’ll do more inter-facility transfers than scene calls, about 70/30.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I really loved being around horses and animals, so at first I was headed toward veterinary medicine.
Can you summarize the journey that brought you to REACH?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and I come from an ambulance background—we always watched Emergency on TV and things like that. I became an EMT at 18. I went to EMT school at Duncan Polytechnic in Fresno and in 1993 I became a paramedic in Inglewood. I’ve been in EMS for almost 25 years, and when an opportunity arose to work for REACH, I pursued it.
The culture, for one thing. I became familiar with REACH in 2002. I was a GM for a large ambulance company in Sonoma County, and I started to have interactions with REACH staff. I saw their processes, and I watched how it all worked. Also, some of my employees worked for REACH intermittently. I could see that it would be a great organization to work for and that their beliefs were very similar to mine.
For an organization to be successful, I think they have to provide certain things. For example, they have to provide an environment that’s non-threatening. In this context, threatening means something like being told, “You have to meet XYZ! You have to achieve these certain numbers!” REACH simply says, “Do what’s right.” I wouldn’t be a good manager if I wasn’t thinking about the financial impact of my decisions, but when it comes to immediate situations and decisions, I’m supported here. I used to work for a larger organization, and the culture wasn’t like this. I was never told, “Your job is to be here for your employees, to help them do their jobs.” At REACH, the practice is to be a leader, not a dictator. Sean is probably the most unique leader I have had the privilege of working for. He’s someone who sits down and has real conversations with you.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
The new puzzle and challenge for me is learning the air side. My experience and history are on the ground provider side. I’m learning new terminology. Sometimes I’m still humorously corrected.
What is distinctive about your base and the people you work with?
Our base is probably one of a small handful that is a combined base—fixed and rotor wing. Also, having two specialized crews available 24/7 is unique.
During the base openings, I saw a distinctive methodology. It was very specific, and it was managed in a very sequential way that included addressing potential problems. With larger companies, that kind of thing can be very chaotic, so for REACH to have the bandwidth to successfully open several bases at a time indicates a unique leadership staff.
What do you love more than anything else about your current position?
I love the challenges that come with being a manager, and I love the variety of people I come into contact with. Most of all, I love the relationships I get to have with my crews.
What most inspires you about REACH as a company?
I love the organization. I love working for them based on several things including why we do the job what we do—the mission—and also the fact that we’re here to serve and take care of our employees so they can do their jobs.
Are you willing to share a piece of personal information that people might find surprising?
Growing up, I was “a little bit cowboy”. I used to work on a ranch and compete in gymkhanas. I turned in my cowboy boots for black, steel-toed boots with zippers, my spurs for a pair of trauma sheers and my Wranglers with that big shiny belt buckle for BDU pants. My horse was replaced with a motorcycle.
Who makes up your family or household?
My personal life has always been my work life. I don’t have any kids. My dedication to whatever I’m doing is my focus. It’s a commitment that’s very difficult for others to comprehend. It’s 24/7; we’re always doing something. In most people’s eyes, that’s a burden, but not in ours.
Is there anything else you particularly want to share?
The biggest thing is, I feel honored that I’ve been given an opportunity to take on REACH 17 and REACH 50. I’m honored to have the employee group I have. It’s really the employees that make us who we are. And I’m very grateful to have a leadership team that allows us to do what’s necessary to make things work.