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Hospital honors EMS workers

By Kathy Jefcoats

Growing up in a firefighting family in Clayton County, Jason McCullough felt he was likely destined for a similar career.

Still, he took two years after high school to work as a mechanic just to be sure.

McCullough, married with three children, is 27 now and was honored Thursday for a cardiac arrest save during the past year. The firefighter and emergency medical technician still lives in Jonesboro and was one of more than 200 Henry County paramedics and EMTs recognized for their efforts during National EMS Week.

"It's nice to be recognized for a job well done but this is part of my job," he said after munching down breakfast and juice provided by the Henry Medical Center. "When I am working a cardiac arrest, I am compressing and bagging and it's just reactionary. I answer with the training I have been given."

It is only after the patient is transferred and into the care of others that McCullough has time to reflect back on his actions. Even then, he is more critical than self-congratulatory.

"I wonder if I could have done more, or something better," he said. "If it was a particularly strange situation, I wonder if I could have done something different."

But Henry fire Deputy Chief Keith Starr did no second-guessing Thursday as he heaped praise on the men and women who provide the front line treatment in emergencies and prepare patients for transport.

"They deserve a pat on the back," he said. "We want to say thank you for a job well done."

Starr has 28 years with Henry County and has been a paramedic since 1978. He and his wife of 25 years have two grown children. As he prepared to hand out certificates for cardiac arrest saves, Starr told the medics what they already know about the job – that not every call is a life or death emergency.

"We grumble about having to get up in the middle of the night to answer a call about someone with nausea and vomiting," said Starr. "But once we're on that truck, we're professionals and take our jobs seriously."

Although McCullough talked about the routine of some calls, other calls are harder to dismiss. Starr said after such calls, the medics rely on each other for comfort.

"We talk among ourselves, turn to each other to vent," he said. "We try to not get personally involved with the patient but it's hard to do if it is a child."

Henry County Fire Department employs 146 EMTs and 63 paramedics running seven front line ambulances. Starr said an eighth will soon be added. On average, the fire department responded to 843 calls a month since January.

Starr said he hopes the public responds favorably when those vehicles are seen on Henry County roadways.

"I hope the people realize that these firefighters and EMTs are not just people, they're unique people," he said. "I joke about a firefighter needing just half a brain to go into a burning building but it is true. Think back to New York. Those firefighters could have cared less about the building falling on them. They were there to do a job. You can't do this job if you don't love it."

McCullough said he loves the job because it presents a challenge every day.

"I wanted a challenging job like my dad, I like working with my hands, too," he said. "There is a lot of tradition in the fire department, too."

McCullough's dad has 30 years with Clayton County, and boasts other relatives in the profession – uncles, cousins, nephews. Unlike the automotive industry, McCullough has found a home in firefighting.

"I see myself staying here," said McCullough. "I want to move up through the ranks and stay in firefighting."