The career of one of Minnesota's most dedicated paramedics might never have started if it weren't for a friendly dare.

Rose Pelzel was working as a housekeeper at South St. Paul's Divine Redeemer Hospital in the early 1970s when she discovered an interest in emergency medical services (EMS). She took the class required to become a paramedic and even attended a few seminars.

Yet she didn't intend to make a career out of it.

Then one of her instructors who believed in Pelzel's skills dared her to apply for an EMS opening at the hospital.

"I took him up on the dare," Pelzel said. "It was obvious from the get-go [that] the administration didn't really want me out there, but I was able to persuade them to give me the chance. And if I didn't work out, I would just go back to what I was doing."

It worked out.

Pelzel became the first female EMS in the state of Minnesota. And the St. Paul native continued working in the field for almost five decades, racking up countless hours on the job and saving many lives.

When she retired from M Health Fairview in April, she left as what is believed to be the longest-serving field paramedic in the country.

"I don't think you're going to find much of that [anymore] because of the nature of the work," Pelzel said. "I don't think it's possible anymore."

Emergency services has always been a boys' club. The first known female EMS in the country was hired just one year before Pelzel in Palm Springs, Calif., in 1972. From 2008 to 2017, fewer than 25% of new paramedics were female.

When she started, Pelzel had her share of detractors who felt that women should not be on the team. She also had supporters who helped her through tough times and obstacles.

"There were nights I'd go home crying, but I'm also very stubborn and I knew I could do it. So I stayed and just let my work prove my worth," Pelzel said.

Over time, Pelzel's camp of supporters grew. She continued to build upon her skills and teamwork abilities.

Marcia Anderson, also a paramedic, worked with Pelzel for close to three decades and considers her a role model and mentor. Anderson said Pelzel is a strong woman with a quick wit that always lit up the room.

"She always found a way to make somebody feel better, and that was both with patients and co-workers," Anderson said. "She always had a good rapport with patients. She was always very respectful, very caring, empathetic — an excellent clinician."

One memory sticks out for Pelzel. A few years ago, a 5-year-old boy hopped into an apartment complex pool in the early spring before it was cleaned and he started drowning.

When Pelzel and her fellow paramedics arrived, the boy had been taken out of the pool and was receiving CPR. The paramedics took over and transported him to the hospital, but the outlook was not encouraging.

A few weeks later, the boy's family invited Pelzel and the other paramedics on the call to visit their son, who had made a full recovery and was laughing, playing and running around.

"We could not believe that this was a patient that we had just taken in a couple of weeks ago that we thought was never going to come out of the hospital," Pelzel said.

"The highlight for me is when the dad shook my hand and the look on his face was one of such gratitude. … I think that was really the cherry on top of my career."

The decision to retire was a gradual one. Pelzel has developed an interest over the past few years in Reiki and other energy healing methods and feels that this is her new calling.

Anderson said Pelzel leaves big shoes to fill and she will be missed by the emergency service community. But her legacy will reverberate for years to come.

Said Anderson: "She's touched so many lives."

Freelancer Peter Warren can be reached via twitter at @thepeterwarren

Correction: Previous versions of this story misspelled Divine Redeemer Hospital and misstated its location.