First responders are there when we need them

Published 5:50 am Sunday, December 15, 2019

By Dr. William Holland

Living on Purpose

There was a time when like many others, I did not have a clue about the extensive training and dedication of our first responders. As a certified fire chaplain, I now know that battling structure fires is only one of many complex and dangerous situations they encounter.

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The development of these courageous men and women comes not only with many hours of on the job experience, but also years of classroom instruction and continuing education. Just as in college, instructors teach with power point presentations and videos from all branches of State and Federal emergency management and along with the class work, there are weekly drills with hands on training. Creating practice fires and learning how to battle them or re-enacting an active shooter situation is just a small part of what they are prepared to face.

Thank God for the tax revenue which provides state of the art equipment for crisis situations like exposure from hazardous and chemical spills, flood rescue with boats, natural gas leaks, and cave and mountain search and rescue just to name a few. Whether carrying someone over their shoulder while climbing down a ladder or using the hydraulic cutters and spreaders whenever there is a serious vehicle accident, they not only have the capability to extract victims but are also trained to administer emergency medical assistance that can save lives before they are transported. These are just some of the situations they face as there is not enough time or space here to list the many specialized responsibilities and resources.

Here is a true story about an EMT named Joseph who was finishing up a night shift when he walked into a doughnut shop for his nightly coffee, something he had done hundreds of times before. This time, however, his carbon monoxide detector, purchased only recently after the death of a local business owner, began going off. He asked the doughnut shop employee if he was feeling symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. When the employee said he felt fine, Joseph was sure the device was malfunctioning.

Even so, something told him to check again. After clearing the device, he asked the employee if he could walk back to the ovens. The device confirmed this time that the entire shop was flooded with Carbon Monoxide. Joseph quickly evacuated the building and called his dispatcher and amazingly prevented the death of the person who was working that night. Or what about a paramedic named Kimberly who was attending her daughter’s volleyball tournament when she noticed a woman in distress at the event. After assessing the situation, she ran around the corner of the gymnasium, where an automated external defibrillator was available and she managed to restart the woman’s heart and saved her life. This is the level of determination and perseverance it takes to become a highly trained professional who is always on call.

When we think of modern day superhero’s our attention turns to the movies or sports, but our first responders are the real hero’s which rarely receive the appreciation and respect they deserve. Because of the time commitment alone, first responders make substantial personal sacrifices. Whatever activities, hobbies, or family time they enjoy often takes a backseat to their service to the community.

As a member of state and local crisis response teams, I’ve also attended training exercises because I desire to witness what firefighters do and I desire to develop relationships with them. The hard work and dedication these individuals demonstrate every day is nothing short of amazing. I’ve personally watched them crawl on their bellies carrying full gear including oxygen tanks through dark tight spaces and then pull 450 feet of heavy hose on a 90 degree afternoon.

Each member learns to trust each other with the understanding that someone’s life depends on their success and this includes being responsible for those they are working with. Just like everything else in life, taking the job seriously and regular practice is critical to becoming good at what we do which is why so much time is invested with training exercises and practicing with simulated emergencies. I hope we never need them, but if we do, they are only minutes away. Here is what one veteran firefighter had to say, “Being a first responder allows us to intervene with perfect strangers on the worst day of their lives. Protecting and serving another person gives us a deeper perspective about the precious value of every life.”

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