National EMS Week: First Responders

It’s National EMS Week and this year’s theme is fitting, “One Mission: One Team.” First responders need to be able to throw caution to the wind and sacrifice themselves to help others survive.

ABC 10’s Rick Tarsitano tries to put their noble effort into perspective.

When an emergency strikes, every second counts. First responders know if that don’t act quickly, regardless of the inherent danger, lives will be lost.

“And I think that’s what we saw with what happened in Boston. When you saw the immediate explosion, what you saw was many of the first responders running in the direction of what was going on, and not away from it. And so at that point, I think there’s just a certain level of conditioning that for those folks, there thing is, there’s a job that has to be done. And so they can remove the emotional aspect of it because for them, they are programmed to know that if I don’t respond and respond quickly, the consequences are going to be much greater,” explained Gregory S. Jones, PhD, a Psychologist for the past 15 years.

That was case a month ago at the mouth of the Carp River. Each minute that ticked by gave the men stranded on the ice floe less and less to stand on.

“When we got to the scene that night we suited up, we were down by the edge of the water, and I think we had a harder time sitting on shore waiting for the green light to go than when we actually got into the water. We both spoke after the incident was over and we were more relaxed going out there than we were waiting,” remarked Greg Guertin, a Marquette Firefighter 17 years running.

Even though water temperatures were hovering around freezing, swimming through an icy stew gave them peace of mind because it meant they were doing something to help improve the situation.

“It has to be warrior-like. No matter how gruesome the scene is, if there’s a sign of life, there job is to basically do everything they can to save that life,” Dr. Jones noted.

The same was true some 18 years ago in Oklahoma City, when Judy McCarver had to quickly transition into the role of first responder and help save her fellow DEA agents lives.

“There’s always the potential for something to go wrong in that. So there’s always going to be an opportunity, a chance, that fight or flight is going to present itself and you’re going to have to make a decision. That’s hard to teach in a classroom,” observed McCarver, who spent 7 years as a DEA agent.

It’s a metamorphosis born out of impulse that grows stronger with each experience.

“When you’re a first responder or an EMT, you’re a regular person. But then, when something happens, the training and the instinct takes over. You just feel this duty that you’re going to be there and do what it takes to make the situation better. They see that a job needs to be done. They know they can do it, and they get it done,” said Bob Struck, UP EMS Coordinator.

It doesn’t matter if a bomb just went off or a building is collapsing, first responders have a calling to do everything and anything in their power.

No matter the peril, together as a team, they’ll grin and bare it.

“At that point, we kind of just made a little joking statement and jumped in. But, no it’s a rush. You do go back to you’re training a lot. You’re kind of in the moment, so there’s not a fear or nervousness. You’re just concentrated on what you’ve got to do, and that’s about it,” reiterated Kurt Hillier, a Relief Engineer for 12 years.

Simple enough to say, but hard to act on when staring into the eyes of the unknown.

“I think you still get scared. You still have that anxiety. But through your training you know what to do, and you just do it,” Guertin finished.