Author: Grace Hees

Feather Report

Southern Arizona is a birder’s paradise, and even in the heart of Tucson, you will experience a bevy of winged visitors. Here, we profile some of the “usual suspects” you may see in your garden.


The Mourning Dove is known for the soulful cooing sound it makes at dawn and dust. Its neutral coloration offers camouflage as it searches for seeds.


Roadrunners can be seen racing across the landscape as they chase their prey. They usually prefer lizards, but are brave enough to even take on a rattlesnake.


Gila Woodpeckers excavate holes in saguaro cacti, which provide homes for several bird species. They often can be heard as they peck at eaves and evaporative coolers (a territorial signal). Photo by Amy Haskell


The Cactus Wren, Arizona’s state bird, is well known for its brash and inquisitive nature, as it daringly perches on cactus spines.


Lesser Goldfinches have yellow breasts, and the males have black backs (females have olive ones). They feature white bars on their wings, and are particularly attracted to a feeder full of Nyjer (or thistle) seed.
Photo by Amy Haskell


The colorful Hummingbird darts around plants with brightly hued, tubular flowers in pursuit of nectar. Many species of hummers inhabit our area.
Photo by Ben Wilder

A Day In The Life Of An EMT

On TV and in the movies, EMTs are usually portrayed at the most dramatic moments in their jobs. But what is a shift really like for a firefighter/emergency medical technician?

We turned to the Tucson Fire Department to find out.

By Elena Acoba  |  Photography by Shelley Welander

This article follows a shift with Firefighter/Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Cam Welander.

In 2017, the Tucson Fire Department dispatched medical emergency responders 72,138 times. That accounted for 78 percent of more than 92,000 emergency calls to the department.

All TFD firefighters get 150 to 190 hours of training as EMTs. They learn how to assess medical and trauma issues, take vital signs and provide basic life support (BLS) such as emergency wound and trauma care and giving oxygen and some medications.

Paramedics take at least 1,000 hours of training, including classes in anatomy and physiology. That allows them to provide advanced life support (ALS), including using a heart monitor, administering multiple medications, performing advanced airway procedures and transporting patients to hospital emergency rooms.

Sometimes EMTs will perform the same treatments as paramedics in extreme circumstances when a paramedic isn’t available, such as in rural areas.

One shift with firefighter/emergency medical technician (EMT) Cam Welander early this year showed the variety of calls that require medical help, from true emergencies to non-critical first-aid advice.

Welander’s day at Station 4 near Grant Road and Interstate 10 starts with station upkeep and exercising. Two hours later he responds to the first call of the day: A man who fainted in a doctor’s office.

He and two other firefighters take the ladder truck to the office, lights and sirens on. The older man with several chronic health issues is conscious when the crew arrives. Using their own equipment, the firefighters determine that his blood pressure and pulse are normal, both as he is seated and when he stands up.

Asked what he’d like to do, the patient opts to go home. The firefighters caution him to seek medical help if he continues to feel bad.

Welander, who has logged 12 years as a firefighter, puts in an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. “work” day to train, keep up on professional news, read and act on memos, drill and maintain the station and equipment. Although every firefighter is an EMT, Welander is designated at his station to make sure that stores are stocked with medical supplies and that medical emergency equipment is functioning.

A mid-afternoon call sends him, the rest of the ladder crew and the paramedic truck with two more firefighters to check on an unresponsive woman. They find an underweight 30-year-old breathing at a rate of six breaths per minute — the normal is 12 to 18 — with an elevated pulse and low blood oxygen.

They administer oxygen and help with ventilation using a bag-valve mask, also called a manual resuscitator, which is enough for her to “sort of” come to, Welander says.

“She didn’t look healthy. She was super skinny,” he adds. “The whole way she presented herself, she ended up being transported in advanced life support with the medics.” That means a ride to the hospital emergency room. On the way, information about the woman’s condition is transmitted to the ER by computer to prepare hospital staff for her arrival.

Medical emergency responders are guided by directives issued by Dr. Terrence Valenzuela, an emergency room physician with Banner — University Medical Center Tucson who also serves as the TFD medical director.

Instead of getting on the radio to get direction from hospital ER personnel, “we function under what is called administrative guidelines,” says TFD Capt. Julian Herrera, who is in charge of medical administration. That saves time and it standardizes how responders handle calls.

Firefighters drill on these directives and use them to quickly assess each situation.

For the unconscious woman, the team checked multiple vital signs, including blood pressure, heart rate, pupils, gripping and skin elasticity. They noted the circumstances—in this case, the patient was lying down with low respiration rate — and took a quick medical history.

Sieminski, Welander and EMT Jake Connor take the blood pressure and temperature of Kristin, a TFD cadet.

“We trust our numbers and the way the patient is presenting,” says Welander. “Based on what we find, we have guidelines that specify whether the patient needs to be transported in an ALS or basic life support ambulance.”

After 5 p.m., Welander’s work day is over and after dinner it’s down time until a call comes in. And one does: a fall injury. Four firefighters are let in by a man to a disheveled apartment and find a woman on the floor. One of her legs is wrapped in a bloody elastic bandage. And she is drunk. “She’s laughing and joking and moving her leg around,” Welander says.

The responders learn that the woman fell down and heard a pop. As they examine the injury, they find indications of a compound fracture of her tibia and fibula, both of which are poking through her skin.

The crew calls for a paramedic unit, which helps with treatment and drives her to the hospital. Detail matters when calling 911 regarding a medical emergency. Because the call about the woman was for a fall injury with no more detail, EMTs were sent first to assess the situation. Had someone mentioned broken bones that broke skin, says Welander, a paramedic unit might have been called out first.

“The caller needs to describe the scene as accurately as possible,” says Herrera, “and the dispatcher will make a determination of who to send.”

Mental health calls are some of the most challenging because the emergency health system isn’t set up to handle them. It’s clear that someone who has overdosed or done physical harm needs to go to an ER.

“But if someone has high anxiety or is very angry, it’s not necessarily true that the emergency room would be able to give the most help,” Herrera says.

Paramedics can drive patients only to ERs, so a crisis center is an extra ride away.

“We don’t want to just leave (patients) where they are because they need help,” he says, “so the emergency room has always kind of been the fallback.”

Before Welander’s shift is over, he and his crew tends to a man whose bug bite five days earlier is still swollen, itchy and tender to the touch. The EMTs recommend he take a pain reliever, use an anti-bacterial cream and visit urgent care if it gets worse.

Welander says he “loves his job” as a Station 4 firefighter. It’s the home of TFD’s technical rescue technicians (TRT) team. It responds to complex situations such as structural collapse, swift-water rescue, automobile extraction, rope rescue and confined-space rescue.

Firefighters rely on their training as a well-oiled unit to handle these calls. “You feel like you’re part of a Super Bowl team,” Welander says. “Say you pull someone out of a mangled car. That’s an awesome feeling. It’s great anytime we go on a real call.”

But frequent calls from one location for issues that are not medical emergencies “wears on you,” he adds.

EMT Andy Amos, Sieminski and Welander carrying their equipment.

There are many stories of these types of calls: People who are homeless and want to get out of extreme weather; the poor who can’t afford to see a doctor or urgent care; the person who frequently calls 911 for non-emergencies.

Many 911 calls can’t be solved by emergency medicine: a drug addict who wants to get clean, an elderly woman who needs help with every-day tasks.

“Many times people call 911 because they are at a loss on what to do or how to solve their problem,” says Herrera.

This frequent over-use and abuse of 911 causes “compassion-fatigue” among firefighters, says Capt. Brian Thompson.

“It’s one of those things when you’ve seen the same person out in the field three or four times and they are not taking the steps needed to make progress,” says Thompson. “Our crews are feeling it.”

To help these frequent callers and reduce the number of non-emergency calls, TFD implemented a program designed by Assistant Chief Sharon McDonough. The Tucson Collaborative Community Care (TC-3) program started in January 2016. Thompson is its team manager.

Four firefighters in the program take referrals from field crews who feel a person could benefit from the program. It also takes referrals from a database that tracks frequent 911 callers.

A TFD crew had to rescue a man who had fallen in his bathroom, Thompson reports. The crew, seeing his home in major disrepair, referred his case to the TC-3 team. As the man recovered in a skilled nursing facility, he got a visit from the team, which discovered that he also didn’t have transportation to buy groceries.

The team called the non-profit Community Home Repair Projects of Arizona to fix the water heater and evaporative cooler. Workers also installed a new bathroom sink to replace the one damaged during the rescue. TC-3 also made arrangements for a grocery store to make home deliveries.

“When he returned home, things were much better than when he left,” Thompson says. “This gentleman has been able to enjoy his family home and a better quality of life.”

TC-3 works with many agencies such as Pima Council on Aging, El Rio Community Health Center, Interfaith Community Services, Salvation Army and Sister Jose, as well as private companies that offer home health, hospice care and other services. They help TC-3 coordinate care that will reduce emergencies and, subsequently, 911 calls.

“The city of Tucson has a wide range of valuable resources,” Thompson says. “TC-3 navigates these individuals to the appropriate resources that fit their needs. It is then that we see a reduction, if not a complete stop, to the 911 super-utilization.” 

In The Loop

Path, Present, Future!

What links 30 public parks, has nearly four-dozen pieces of public art and is likely only one mile from your house? It’s The Loop!

By Kirsten Almquist

Riders modeling Loop jerseys on a commercial shoot along the Rillito River.

If you’ve driven across a bridge spanning one of metropolitan Tucson’s major (frequently dry) rivers, chances are you’ve seen glimpses of a paved path that runs alongside the wash, bristling with cyclists, runners and folks walking dogs. This is Tucson’s not-so-hidden treasure and, after years of development, it’s finally finished. Each day as the sun begins to peek over the Rincon Mountains, outdoor enthusiasts make their way to some portion of this 131-mile multi-use path.

A dog-walker along the north side of the Rillito River Park path, a particularly scenic portion of Pima County’s The Loop.

Interestingly enough, recreation is not what first inspired the creation of “The Chuck Huckelberry Loop.” Pima County began building cement bank protection along the banks of the Rillito and Santa Cruz rivers after the mighty floods of 1983. What the city soon discovered was that nearby residents were using the unpaved maintenance access paths on top of the banks to walk their dogs, go for a run or ride their bikes.  That’s when inspiration hit.   

What started as a good idea, turned out to be a great idea. The county began creating river parks with paved trails. It didn’t take long for these parks to become widely popular. As the years passed, every time the county constructed new sections of embankment along major canals, they built more parks and multifunctional paths. One of the largest, finest and most popular public recreational trails in the country was being blazed right through the heart of Tucson.

On a regular basis, Pima County residents use The Loop as part of their commute and exercise routine. But locals aren’t the only ones taking advantage of this park-centered perk. Over the past decade, The Loop has become a major tourist attraction. Some visitors to Tucson may scratch their heads in confusion as they stare out at our dry riverbeds. However, come monsoon season, they’re shocked to see these parched veins flowing with water, and delighted by the soothing scent of the dampened creosote bushes as they traverse the many miles of pathways.

Rain or shine, for those keen on outdoor recreation, The Loop provides yet another reason to explore Tucson. In February, Pennsylvania residents Clay Shaw and Karen Mitchell made a five-day-long drive to the Old Pueblo in search of winter refuge and to bike outdoors on recently completed paths. “We wanted to get away from our winter woes and just spend a nice relaxing month in Tucson because we knew it was beautiful, having been here before,” says Mitchell. “The Loop is really well done. The signage made it easy to figure out where we were. I love the fact that you just follow the river and you don’t get off on a bad shoot.”

Jon Jegglie, a resident of Sierra Vista, discovered The Loop nearly three years ago. He makes it a point to use it on weekends when he and his wife are visiting. “My wife drops me at Thornydale and Orange Grove and goes shopping. I walk along The Loop up to the QT on Craycroft and she picks me up there,” he says.

Jennifer Brown and Sandy Ballis ride their horses along the The Loop as it runs along the Rillito River

In addition to luring tourists and locals, The Loop has played a significant role in the art community, as well as the success of local shops, restaurants and farmers markets. For Jessie and David Zugerman, owners of Tucson Hop Shop, locating the brewery in the Metal Arts Village near the path was a no-brainer. “We knew the cyclists would be a huge target demographic for our business,” says Jessie. “Proximity to this major cycling artery was a cornerstone in finding a location.” The pair feels lucky to have found a spot less than a mile from The Loop entrance at Dodge Boulevard.

The Rillito Farmers Market is another business that has benefitted. Although many market shoppers still arrive by car, The Loop provides safe passage for those who wish to bike there. Numerous visitors to the market make a spontaneous stop because they spot the market while biking or walking.

After picking up some local goodies from the Rillito Farmers Market and grabbing a brew from Tucson Hop Shop, “loopers” can take in the spectacle of more than 90 pieces of public art located along the river park paths. Some are obvious, even dramatic, statements designed to reflect the character of the location or enhance a neighborhood’s distinctive identity. Others are more subtle and serve to complement the appearance of more functional features of the linear park such as bridges, noise walls, railings and benches.

Artist Stephen Fairfield submitted the first of his popular “Batty Biker” sculptures in response to a request for concepts incorporating bats, bikes and bridges. “Pima County sought to have sculptures along The Loop where people would go to see the roosting bats fly out at dusk to feed, and come back at dawn to rest up. They also wanted the sculptures relevant to passersby on bicycles,” Fairfield explains. “I kind of have a cracked sense of humor and it isn’t hard for me to find whimsy in everyday things, hence the bat and the bike series.”

Whether you’re using it for restaurant hopping, vegetable shopping, or just enjoying the great outdoors, there’s still one question that may be circling your mind: is The Loop complete? The answer is, yes — but it’s not finished. Future projects to make it bigger and better are already in the planning stages, including improved river park pathways in certain areas, as well as adding sections in Marana and Oro Valley. The county will widen paths in some places and increase native vegetation in others. Look for more improvements and path extensions over the next decade. TL

Editorial Note: Thanks to Pima County Attractions and Tourism for providing information and photos for this article.

Making the Grade

One local couple and their team of landscape professionals found exciting ways to handle the elevation changes in their backyard.

By Megan Guthrie  |  Photography by Robin Stancliff

Lush plantings cascade down toward the pool.

When Steve and Laurel Brown set out to purchase their second home in 2009, they wanted an outdoor living experience. Looking at the canyon views surrounding their northside property, it is no surprise that their Midwestern friends and family are frequent guests to this Tucson abode — a property made for entertaining.

“People are truly blown away when they see the environment,” says Laurel. “Everyone says it feels like a private five-star resort.”

The property was so spectacular that Laurel’s brother held his wedding there. The elegant event surpassed many guests’ expectations. “We have hosted a few community organization fundraisers and parties, as well,” says Laurel.

The backyard wasn’t always this grand. Starting with a small patio area, overgrown landscaping, lack of shade, dirt slopes, and a pool and spa area in need of being reconfigured, Steve and Laurel knew they were embarking on a major landscape design project. “It looked like a big missed opportunity the way it was,” Laurel says. “All I thought about was changing it all!”

Magnificent mountain and desert views can be enjoyed from the home’s upper patios.

The couple enlisted the expertise of Michael Byrne, PLA, ASLA, Project Landscape Architect and co-owner of The WLB Group after being introduced by Anne Ferro and Bryan Durkin, real estate agents from Sotheby’s International Realty. “Michael presented ideas that were larger and more exciting than I originally visualized,” Laurel says.

Byrne, an expert in structural issues such as retaining walls and hardscape elements like steps, walls and building design, was interested in finding solutions to the grade changes throughout the original yard. Tens of thousands of yards of dirt were added to the property. Terraces were built, connected by steps, ramps and stairs to address the changes in elevation throughout the landscape.

Extending the interior design elements to the outdoors was integral to the overall design. Wooden planks were used for the flooring inside the house, so Laurel chose wood-look plank tiles in a pattern that intersected with stone. The interior and exterior flooring now appears to be continuous. This stone tile is one of many materials chosen for its durability and visual appeal.

“We wanted classic stone — something that would not look out of fashion in a few years,” Laurel says. “I selected materials that spoke to the colors and materials of the area. I wanted desert colors, and typical materials used in Arizona.”

As the owner of Brownhouse Design, an architecture and interior design firm, Laurel has an eye for aesthetics. Her favorite spot in the yard is the approximately 600-square-foot, newly constructed casita. For the roof, wooden beams from Wisconsin were selected (the same beams were used in the main house). Several reclaimed wooden pillars from the Middle East were placed at the entrance of the casita. Seven tin star chandeliers hang from the ceiling, inspired by light fixtures Laurel saw on a trip to Tubac. The casita features an outdoor kitchen, with a leather finish on the granite countertop and custom wooden cabinets. Six sconces, inlaid with semiprecious stones from Santa Fe, hang on the walls. The flooring is vein-cut travertine. A large wood-burning fireplace is situated next to an enclave holding stacks of mesquite firewood. Within this space, a built-in banco offers additional seating.

Décor elements include leather-finish granite countertops, custom cabinets, metal sconces, reclaimed wood doors and pillars from the Middle East.

“I love the wood-burning fireplace,” Laurel says. “We burn mesquite and love the aroma.”

Forms and geometry were thoughtfully considered for the residence. The pool and spa were reconfigured to display curved edges to complement the circular patterns found in the flooring, and the curved terraces above. There is a grade difference of approximately four feet between the terrace and the pool. A reconfigured water feature connects the pool and spa. Above the pool sits a metal fire urn with a gas jet center. When turned on at night, this showstopper casts a warm glow.

“A site that is more open and surrounded by nature, such as the Brown residence, calls for simple forms for which the surrounding natural world acts as a backdrop,” Byrne says. “The terraces and the pool seem almost to be jewels within an elaborate setting of very dramatic views.”

The vistas include an unobstructed view of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Within the yard, two saguaros were planted to add visual interest. Rosemary, lantana, plumbago, bougainvillea and Sprenger’s asparagus fill raised planters and cascade down the sides of walls.

There are six seating areas located on various terraces. A stainless steel outdoor barbecue and fountain provide a space to grill while listening to the soothing sound of flowing water.

To construct a level surface for socializing and circulation, drains were installed on the terraces. Additionally, planter walls constructed using split-face block define the elevation changes. Down lighting and step lighting fixtures illuminate the stairs, ramps and terraces during evening walks. The design process took six months, with construction requiring about a year due to the high level of site work in a hard-to-access space.

By the comments from both the homeowners and their visitors, it was time and money well spent.

“My midwestern friends and family cannot wait to put on shorts and get in a lounge chair by the side of our pool,” Laurel says. “We love gathering in the casita on the cool nights with a raging fire going. We are able to talk and share in a way we couldn’t do in a different type of space.”


Michael Byrne, PLA, ASLA | The WLB Group,

Brownhouse Design | 

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Tucson Lifestyle

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