Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

Opinion

April 11, 2014

Emergency responders have enviable skills, unenviable duties

GLASGOW — It takes a special set of skills to be an emergency responder, whether on the front lines as a law enforcement officer, firefighter, paramedic or emergency medical technician or behind the scenes as a dispatcher.

I’m referring to skills beyond the knowledge needed to investigate, battle a blaze, administer medical aid or navigate a communications console.

These folks must remain as calm and level-headed as possible in potentially dramatic and life-altering circumstances – for the sakes of the people they are helping as much as themselves. They must focus on the task at hand and set aside whatever distractions may be going on in their personal or professional lives at that particular time.

Even in a best-case scenario, when a 911 caller is able to provide ample information about the situation, unknowns still exist about what to expect when responders arrive on the scene. They have to be prepared for any possibility and hope for the relative best.

I have the utmost respect for the work these individuals do, and I’m grateful they want to perform these types of duties in service to their communities. I understand, by the way, that many occupations require the same level of commitment and desire to serve, so this is not meant to slight those in any way. But a particular scenario involving emergency responders is prompting this writing.

Last week, I was at the scene of a motor vehicle accident. I saw an SUV that had its front end resting in a pond. I witnessed the driver being carried from the vehicle on a spine board that was then placed on the ground.

Emergency workers from multiple agencies encircled the driver, but especially with the point-and-shoot camera I had with me at the time that has a much-to-be-desired zoom feature, I doubt I would have recognized the man from where I stood along the guardrail of the highway, atop another embankment, probably between 20 and 25 feet away. I had only seen him in passing a handful of times, if that many.

I observed cardiopulmonary resuscitation being performed. Eventually, the patient was loaded onto the back of a pickup truck, with more CPR administered once there. Because of the location of the pond, the truck was used to transport him to an ambulance waiting in a nearby driveway. ...

It wasn’t until four or five hours later that I learned from a Kentucky State Police press release the man who had been driving the SUV was a Barren County sheriff’s deputy, and he had died.

As I reflected on what I had witnessed, I thought about the BCSO personnel who worked with him who had been at the scene, and I wondered whether as many as I guessed of the firefighters and ambulance service personnel there were also familiar with Ernest Franklin.

It would be difficult enough to have someone at a scene not pull through; I couldn’t imagine being in their shoes and responding to a scene to find someone they know with his life at risk, or worse.

I talked with a couple of them over the next day or two and asked about what it was like for them on a personal level.

Deputy Mike Houchens said he knew as he drove to the scene that the vehicle had official tags, but it wasn’t until he arrived and saw the vehicle that he knew who was in it.

“Every accident I go to, there’s just a bad feeling in my stomach,” he said, regardless of who’s involved.

That day, Houchens said, as he was doing his job and could see things going on around him, “it just didn’t seem real.”

Despite training, when the individual hurt is “a friend, somebody you know on a personal level, it’s hard not to become emotional,” he said.

In the brief interaction with him at the scene, neither his face nor any of the others’ that I was close enough to see, revealed that the person who had been in that SUV was someone they knew.

Mike Swift, Barren County coroner and director of Barren-Metcalfe County Emergency Medical Services, arrived about the same time I did. Other ambulance service personnel were already providing aid.

He said later he didn’t know who was in the SUV until he was being carried out of the vehicle and someone said Franklin’s name.

“It was a shock,” he said. “He was a close friend. He would have fallen into that category with a lot of people because he was that type of person. ... He was a great guy. He was hilarious.”

That wasn’t the first time Swift has responded to a scene where a close friend was involved.

He recalled going to the scene of a wreck when he worked for the ambulance service in Bowling Green and finding a man he had known from college. That time, his friend was already gone.

At many other scenes through the years, he had at least some level of familiarity with either the person needing help or their family members.

“Your first concern is the patient. You’re looking for injuries and trying to get their medical history,” he said. “The No. 1 worry is treatment. ... You kind of have to put your feelings away and do your job. That’s where your purpose comes into play. You concentrate on that first.”

After a bit, you start wondering about the family and whether they know, and you start thinking about making preparations with the hospital, and, if it’s especially bad, “you start thinking about what you’re going to say [to the family],” he said.

I can’t imagine anyone envying that job.

Although I already appreciated what these men and women do, thinking about what I likely would have been like that day, or for any similar circumstance, added another level of gratitude.

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