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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Reflections on the Passing of a Paramedic ...

EMS people, especially in our early careers, tend to feel invulnerable. I'm the rescuer ... bad things won't happen to me because it's my job to be here for everyone else. My first experience with that was in the mid 80s when I was working as a paramedic for a "home town" ambulance company and responded to a motorcycle accident. It wasn't the first ... and certainly wouldn't be the last. I'd had a few years in by then and things were becoming a little routine. It turned out the "victim" in this case was a fellow paramedic and was in traumatic cardiac arrest after hitting a stopped vehicle then getting catapulted accross a major highway. The trauma center staff (the ones who were able to function in the face of familiarity) did thier best, inclusive of cracking his chest, but Frank was gone. My husband (at the time) was a cat scan tech in the same hospital and there to comfort me, but all I felt was numb. I was numb through the next week; the retelling of the story, the viewing, then the funeral. Our ambulance led the procession. One of the responding LA County firefighters was with us.

There was no CISM program back then. We were on our own. We thought the funeral would put closure on the event. Two years later I learned what PSTD was. The other thing I learned from that experience was that it was the newer employees, the ones that didn't even know Frank, were affected the most. That's when I understood how we tend to weave this "web of invulnerability" around us. Then, when we lose one of our own, it's like a sharp smack to the head and a recognition of our own mortality.

This week, some 20 years later, I went to a memorial for another paramedic killed in a motorcycle accident. His name was Rob Brooks. He was 38. he had worked through some very rough times in his life to become a sucessful 11 year medic and father. His last post on his Facebook page was to thank people for birthday wishes. He worked in west Contra Costa County, a tough place to work, but where lifelong friendships were formed. "West County people" are a rare breed and won't work in any of the "milder" parts of the county.

II always have a reluctance to go to "one more" of these memorials because I've had to acknowledge the deaths of too many firefighters, cops and EMS people over the years. Most of them were taken before thier time, like Rob. Only a few years ago Contra Costa County lost two firefighters when a roof collapsed. The memory is still fresh. Each of the people whose memorials I attended took a part of me with them.

There had to be at least 500 people in this very large church. Every seat was taken and people were standing in the doorways. The fire department and police presence was mindboggling. It was a sea of class "A" uniforms. I wouldn't have expected this kind of turnout for a private paramedic. It says something about our county and the people that work in it. AMR was well represented and the General Manager, Leslie Mueller, was there in her to acknowledge Rob. The Alameda County AMR Honor Guard showed support from our neighboring county. There were employees and former employees I hadn't seen for years. One, a former partner for Rob, came all the way from North Carolina. When the procession left, they were led across the bridge by the red Reach Air Medical helicopter.

The thing that struck me about this was that this is the way it should be. There is so much talk about public/private conflict. This comes from the top end; from the political spectrum and the need to position for turf. When it comes to the real work in the streets though, it's all about the relationships you form as a person and a medical professional. I got my first job as an EMT during the time when there were few women and we were only marginally accepted. I had to work harder to prove myself as a competent medic ... and a woman. After that I would spend half my day at LA County Fire station 20. The guys taught me much of what I needed to know to be successful in paramedic school. The first memorial I remember was when one of them died in his sleep one night. He was in his 30s.

At Rob's memorial the amazing outpouring of support and love from the fire and police as well as the EMS community showed that we can work as team ... as a family. This is critically important when there are those who would target us as victims of violence or terrorism. The enemy should be those that wish to harm us, not each other! This memorial showed that true solidarity can exist. This is the basis for the concept of EMS 2.0: When it hits the fan, we're all at the same party."Boots on the ground" people get that. Thank you, Contra Costa County, for being that example. Thank you, Rob, for being who you were and such an inspiration.


  1. "Then, when we lose one of our own, it's like a sharp smack to the head and a recognition of our own mortality."

    Ah, the morbidity of death yet an inevitable one. The irony is we are always affected by death of someone we knew though we know that someday we will all die. :)

    Take care,
    Peny@scrubs free shipping

  2. OMGosh, I love this Sam, beautiful and so grateful to you and the other medics, fire department and law enforcement who really don't have a "web of invulnerability" around them, but somehow it's important to your psyche to walk out that door every morning believing you do. What's more I think civilians wrap you in that "web of invulnerability." What an eye opener. Rob must've been an amazing individual. I'm so sorry for your loss! Terrific tribute.


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