EASTON — We could not be without them — they are the people who hurriedly come when we are suddenly hurt, suddenly in trouble, suddenly sick, suddenly thinking we may die.
Whether it’s daytime or in the middle of the night, we dial 911 and we know we will get guaranteed help.
But what kind of person does it take to be an emergency medical provider? What kind of person does it take to spend long hours riding in an ambulance, treating the injured at accidents, bandaging wounds and reviving heart attack victims?
“It’s not anything like you see on TV,” Erin Davidson said, who has been an EMT with Talbot County for 20 years. She said occasionally a shift will be reminiscent of a television episode, but certainly not every day.
Davidson grew up in Caroline County and remembered her grandfather, Pop-Pop “Sally” Satchell leaving the Thanksgiving dinner table to run off on a fire call.
Satchell was fire chief at the Easton Volunteer Fire Company a couple of times during his long career.
Davidson’s grandmother, Rowena Satchell, was the meter reader for the Easton Police Department for a long time.
“I’ve been around law enforcement and firefighting my whole life,” Davidson said.
She graduated from Colonel Richardson High School, took an EMT course at the Easton Fire House, moved out of her parents’ house and got an apartment with a friend at the age of 18.
“And never looked back,” she said.
Davidson worked in the court room and office of a Talbot County judge for a couple of years, all the while volunteering, then transferred to emergency services.
She says the avocation of being an emergency medical provider is like a calling.
“It’s a gift,” she said. “It truly is a gift. You have to be a special person to deal with it. And you know the first couple of times you experience it whether you want to do it or not.”
Paramedic Lt. Matt Watkins grew up in Dorchester County watching his father, paramedic Bill Watkins, rushing off to tend to the sick and also fight fires.
Bill Watkins was chief of the Rescue Fire Company in Cambridge during his long career in emergency services. Matt said his father retired last year at the age of 70.
Matt went to Cambridge-South Dorchester High School, and was anxious to become an emergency responder. At the age of 17, he joined a nearby fire company as an ambulance attendant.
One of his first firefighting calls was the historic 1989 “butter fire” in the East Coast Cold Storage warehouse in Cambridge.
Five million pounds of butter melted, causing firefighters to slip and slide as they battled the warehouse fire that burned out of control for nearly 21 hours, according to accounts.
The butter was being stored for shipment to Poland and the Soviet Union. Much of the firefighters’ gear and equipment were ruined.
Within two years, Watkins joined the U.S. Army and became a medic. He is a veteran of Operation Desert Storm.
He got out but re-enlisted in the Maryland National Guard, staying stateside after terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001.
And even though he did a four-year stint as a Hurlock police officer from 2005 to 2009, Watkins was drawn back to the experience of helping those in critical need.
“This job requires you to be a true caregiver,” he said. “And it’s not always the ‘sexy’ stuff, it’s not always the car accidents, the fires. The real motivation of this job has to be about helping people.”
Watkins started working for Talbot County in 1996.
He said in that 23 years, he’s delivered four babies, two in Easton and two in Cambridge.
“Delivering babies is easy, except when it’s not,” Watkins said. He said most of the time, a birth goes smoothly because the mother is doing all of the work.
If complications arise, he said, they seem to come on suddenly and require speed to get to the hospital.
Watkins said that it’s a privilege to be able to support and witness some of the most significant moments in people’s lives.
“People invite you into their most intimate, private settings and trust you to take care of their family, care of their kids,” he said. “And that’s a privilege, a privilege we don’t take lightly.”
Both Watkins and Davidson helped save a life when a man collapsed at the Amish Country Market in Easton last Christmas.
Davidson was off duty but at the market buying dinner supplies, and Watkins was part of the emergency medical team that responded.
They and others were recognized later on for their life-sustaining efforts by the Talbot County Council.
“Rarely do we save a life independently,” Watkins said. “We are part of a team, from the dispatchers to the ER staff. That whole team saves a life.”
Both Watkins and Davidson said that emergency providers, dispatchers, firefighters and even nurses and doctors in the hospital emergency room are a very close-knit group.
“It’s like a family, like a big extended family,” Watkins said. He showed off a picture on his cellphone of EMS providers all sitting down at the table for a shared meal at the airport station on New Year’s Day.
“We have shifts, and our shifts are like family but it extends outside of that,” Davidson said.
Talbot County employs 44 emergency responders, and 11 of them are females.
“We have a lot of trust in each other, brother, sister, family,” Davidson said. Lots of times they get together outside of work.
The stress of being an emergency provider has led many to adapt decompression strategies.
With a passion for animals, Davidson volunteers at the Animal Welfare League of Queen Anne’s County.
She and her husband also take adventurous vacations when they can. Last year she swam with a jaguar and her husband bottle-fed a baby jaguar in Honduras.
Watkins equated the stress to a box of rocks that a person carries around on their shoulders.
He said that box fills up with just life, bad calls, conflicts, troubles with people and other problems.
“All that stuff goes into that box,” he said. “Finding a way to empty out that box every so often is the key to longevity in this job.”
He said that, yes, they witness tragedy, but the times they are able to save and do good far outweigh those tragic times.
If you would like to know what it’s like to be an EMT first hand, you can sign up to spend a day on an ambulance and observe what happens.
Riders must be 16 years old and those under 18 must get parental consent. A packet is available to those who are interested. Email Judy Micheliche at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Talbot County maintains emergency medical stations at the Easton Fire House, St. Michaels, Tilghman, Trappe and a station at the Easton airport serves the northern part of the county.
The 911 center, also known as the Talbot County Operations Center, is a hub on Port Street in Easton, just outside the Easton Parkway.
There are 10 emergency medical responders on duty in the county at any given time. They work 24-hour shifts, then take a break for 72 hours until their next shift comes around again.
There are EMTs and paramedics. EMTs train for 168 hours to be an entry-level patient care emergency provider.
Paramedics start out as EMTs, and expand their training to nearly 1,000 hours.
At Chesapeake College, the EMT program certificate takes five weeks, and the paramedic certification is offered over five semesters, or 16 months. Both certificates may or may not be combined with other courses for an associate’s degree in emergency medical services. For information, visit www.chesapeake.edu/allied-health/ems.
Another place to train is the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute Training Center at 604 Safety Drive in Centreville.
For information, visit www.mfri.org, or call 888-692-0055 or 410-758-2112.