Emergency responders with the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District have reached a consensus – you never can tell what’s going to happen on the job.
The Times-Gazette got an inside look at the day-to-day operations of Paint Creek in a ride-along Tuesday with Branden Jackman, public information officer, paramedic and firefighter, and other firefighters and emergency medical personnel, catching a glimpse of an average day in the life of a Highland County first responder.
The Paint Creek district came about after budget woes at both the Greenfield Fire Department and Greenfield Area Life Squad Inc. – two separate entities, one public, the latter a private non-profit – led to a ballot issue in 2009 creating a district that merged the two entities. The original Paint Creek district, which officially began operations in January 2010, included the village of Greenfield and Madison Township in Highland County, along with Buckskin and Paint townships in Ross County.
Today, the district includes those territories along with the additional Highland County townships of Paint, Liberty, New Market, Washington and Jackson. Beginning in 2014, the district began providing fire and EMS coverage to the city of Hillsboro on a contractual basis.
Bradley George has been the chief of the Paint Creek district since its inception. George previously served 18 years with the Greenfield Fire Department before leaving in October of 2007 to work for the state fire marshal’s office. When voters approved the formation of the fire district in 2009, he returned home to serve as Paint Creek’s chief.
Paint Creek now responds to an average of 4,500 EMS calls per year, Jackman said, covering roughly 330 square miles with three stations – one in Greenfield, one in Paint Township in the Rocky Fork Lake region, and one in Hillsboro.
In Hillsboro, Paint Creek staff recently began transitioning from its location in the uptown area on North High Street into Hillsboro’s newer fire station on North East Street under an anticipated lease agreement with the city while negotiations are ongoing for a sale or longterm lease of the newer station to Paint Creek.
Jackman said the staff works in three 24-hour shifts, beginning and ending at 7 a.m. When a new shift begins, the crew on duty restocks trucks with drugs and supplies, and conducts vehicle maintenance using iPad software.
Jackman said his day on Tuesday began with truck checks and restocking. At 9 a.m., Jackman said, he conducted an impromptu wedding ceremony between a couple who came in asking to be married – and since Jackman is ordained, he was happy to oblige. Jackman said the couple donated $40, which was put toward a pizza dinner for the duty crew later in the day.
Each full-time staff member has an area of responsibility, Jackman said, adding that he regularly handles EMS billing and IT. Between calls on Tuesday, most of the staff on duty at the North East Street station occupied themselves cleaning the bay floor and conducting routine maintenance tasks.
Crew members responded to two general illness calls before 11 a.m., as well as a difficulty breathing call, Jackman said.
Off to the races
Things were quiet throughout the lunch hour. Several crew members had begun cleaning the bay floors and unclogging the drainage system when a call came in over the crew’s radios – a motor vehicle accident had been reported on SR 247 near Prospect Road with unknown injuries.
Jackman and Robb McMahon, another firefighter and paramedic, jumped into action, heading for the ambulance.
Jackman snapped his fingers at a reporter and pointed at a door of the back of the squad.
“Get in,” he said.
Cars and trucks were careful to move out of the way as the ambulance sped south through uptown Hillsboro, and once it reached SR 247, it sped up, reaching speeds of 65 to 70 miles an hour. A trip that would normally take more than 10 minutes took only six.
On the way, the dispatcher was heard over the radio explaining that a motorcycle had wrecked, leaving a man lying unconscious in the ditch by the side of the road.
As the squad approached the scene, Jackman warned that drivers passing accident scenes often pay more attention to the accident than the road, causing a hazardous situation for first responders – especially on a winding road like SR 247.
Upon arrival – the wreck had actually occurred at nearby Buckley Road, not Prospect – The Times-Gazette observed the man sitting upright in the ditch with several people supporting him. In a moment, Jackman and McMahon were at his side, checking him for injuries.
The man was responsive but showed indications of a head injury, Jackman said. Another squad arrived minutes later to provide assistance, and then Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera came to help secure the scene.
Jackman and McMahon decided the fastest way to get the man the care he needed was to meet MedFlight at Highland District Hospital and transfer him to Kettering Medical Center. On the way back to Hillsboro, McMahon sat with the man in the back of the ambulance, regularly asking the man questions such as what year it was, and who was president. The man consistently responded that it was 2017, but said Barack Obama was the president.
MedFlight landed at HDH within five minutes of the squad’s arrival, and the man was transfered to the helicopter.
At 2 p.m. – 45 minutes after the call came in – the squad headed back to the station. Once there, Jackman restocked the ambulance with everything that had been used, including IV bags, needles, tubes and sheets. The squad was ready to go again within an hour of the initial call.
After every squad run, Jackman said, the staff restocks all the items used during the response, such as IV bags, needles, medications or gauze pads.
Grabbing some R&R
After 4 p.m., those on duty are allowed to relax a little – whether it’s playing a game of basketball in the engine bay, watching movies or getting some rest, Jackman said, but that doesn’t stop emergency calls from coming in and being met with an immediate response.
Tuesday evening, Paint Creek responded to several emergencies, including an attempted suicide and an overdose, as well as another difficulty breathing call.
According to Jackman, there are generally two paramedics on duty each shift – a paramedic being roughly the equivalent of a registered nurse in terms of what medical care they can provide. Paramedics have sets of protocol for certain situations, such as trauma wound care or heart attacks, Jackman said, but if a paramedic feels the need to break protocol, he can call the local hospital’s emergency room doctor on duty for approval. If the doctor signs off, Jackman said, the paramedic can operate outside of protocol as the situation requires.
Jackman said other EMS workers have different qualifications, including basic certification, which allows limited procedures and some medication assistance, and advanced certification, which allows more complicated procedures and authorization to administer drugs intravenously. Those who have basic certification are generally referred to as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), Jackman said.
While there were no reported fires Tuesday, Jackman said the crew on duty all have some form of fire training. There are two types of fire certifications, Jackman said – the first achieved through 140 hours of firefighting classes, and the second from 240 class hours. All full-time firefighters must have completed 240 hours of class, Jackman said, while those who complete 140 hours generally serve as volunteers or part-time firefighters.
Throughout the day, the staff rotates calls, Jackman said. When two or three go out on a call, the others stay behind and man the station, and on the next call, those who stayed behind are the ones who go out, according to Jackman. If there are more than two calls at the same time, volunteers or other full-time staff are called in to man the station, Jackman said.
When The Times-Gazette concluded the ride-along, several members of the duty crew were winding down with a game of basketball.
A ‘tight-knit group’
“It’s a tight-knit group of guys,” Jackman said. “We try to eat lunch or dinner together… We hang out off duty, or at least we try to… Really, we spend a third of our life together.”
Jackman characterized daily life as 99 percent boredom, interjected with one percent “sheer terror.”
“The next call could be our last,” he said. “It could be that fire, or that car wreck where somebody’s not paying attention while driving by… There are so many things that can kill you.”
Jackman said injuries on the job are not a matter of “if,” but “when.”
In addition to the hazards of everyday life as an emergency responder, the job comes with challenges outside the workplace, too, he said.
“This lifestyle is very hard on families,” he said. “There’s a lot of bad parts… there’s a lot of good parts.”
Jackman said one of the bright spots is knowing he’s made a difference in the community.
“You’ll see people and know they wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for the crew,” he said.
For example, Jackman said, Paint Creek EMS workers last year revived a 21-year-old woman who wasn’t breathing – and a little more than a month later, she came to the station and thanked the medics who saved her life.
“When we got her, she was dead,” Jackman said. “No pulse, no breathing… a month and a half later, she comes in and gives us a hug.”
Jackman recalled a streak around the same time when Paint Creek responded to six similar calls and saved five lives.
At the same time, though, Jackman said there are days when it seems no matter what the crew does, they just can’t save people.
McMahon said the job is worth the frustration.
“If we didn’t like it,” he said, “we wouldn’t be here.”
McMahon said one of his favorite things to do when time and circumstances allow is to sit outside the fire station and watch people walk by – affectionately referring to it as “bumper sitting,” a welcome change of pace from high-pressure emergency runs.
And when one of those people walking by ends up in an emergency situation, Jackman said Paint Creek will be there to help.
“No matter what happens,” he said, “if the call comes in, the squad goes out.”
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.