Taking a look at First Responders:
December 14, 2018
Emergency Medical Technician
On William Watkins’ first day as an EMT, his boss tossed him the keys and told him to start running calls. He waited at his post for a call, and the first one he received was urgent and required lights and sirens. He had all the medical knowledge he needed, but he had received no actual training from the academy. Panic ensued as he and his partner struggled to find the siren button all the way to the scene. Watkins’ path to becoming a qualified EMT was quite similar to this call: mostly on-the-job learning and adaptation. Watkins had initially expressed interest in becoming a police officer, but after being rescued from a car accident by EMTs, he was inspired to learn about their work. He considered it for a few days before sitting down with his friends and asking them to join him.
“I said, ‘You guys, I want to go to EMT school. And I want you guys to come with me.’ And they said, ‘We’re in,” Watkins said.
His first experiences as an EMT were lively, but he eventually began to learn the hardships of the job. He feels that the real damage comes from having to mentally process others’ grief, often on the worst day of their lives.
Watkins’ partner Chris Rees recently committed suicide, and in his honor, many first responders wear black bands around their badges. It serves as a reminder that the job can exact an intense toll, often times more mentally than physically. Watkins was very close with his partner, but he also accepts that it’s part of the job.
“This is one of the things that happens in this business people get overwhelmed and there’s just too much tragedy and stuff going on in their personal lives,” Watkins said. “Sometimes it’s just too much.”
He applies the same mentality while he works, and tries not to let emotions get in the way of his job. Watkins has been an EMT for 28 years, but there are still instances that hit especially hard–even so, he knows he must stay focused on what needs to happen in the moment.
“It’s sad, but we can’t let we can’t get emotionally involved,” Watkins said. “Because if we get emotional, we can’t do our job.”
He doesn’t do his job for the big accidents or gore, though. Watkins is attached to his work because of the kindness he has seen spread from helping those who need it. He will often get calls from old people who, especially during the winter, feel lonely and need company. While it’s not an emergency, Watkins and his crew will go anyways.
“They’ll make some cookies and we’ll help them do some things around the house,” Watkins said. “Personally, I don’t mind doing that.”
Watkins’ motto is “never say no,” meaning whoever calls or asks for help, he will always do his best to help. Recently he received a call from a woman who found her 94-year-old roommate collapsed on his bed. They found he had been dead for some time, but their job wasn’t over. His crew stayed after for a while to comfort her and asked if she needed to make a phone call, walked her dog and just sat with her. Watkins works closely with firefighters and sees the same mentality across the board.
One man was in the middle of mowing his lawn when he had a stroke. The ambulance and fire department were called and after he was transported to the hospital, the fire crew returned to his house.
“The fire crew came back to the house and finished his yard work,” Watkins said. “That’s what first responders do. I see those acts of kindness every single day with all agencies police, fire… I’ve had my partner take his boots off and give them to a homeless man.”
Through the hardships of his work, Watkins ultimately believes the job is for the better of the community and is willing to make self-sacrifices to help others. Watkins feels that his job is more than saving people, but helping them beyond physical condition.
“Unfortunately, we have to work when people are sick, or having the worst day of their life,” Watkins said. “And we try our best to make it comfortable for them.”
As a School Resource Officer at the Los Altos Police Department, Officer Josh Cottrell coordinates with 16 schools in the district. You may see him around campus, as much of his job revolves around staying in contact with the administration to keep up with issues around the school. Cottrell grew up in Los Altos, and is driven by wanting to help the community he was raised in. He feels a personal connection with the city, and feels that he can make that impact through giving back to schools.
“When we see something happening within our community, we want to make that difference,” Cottrell said. “You can’t control everything. But you can definitely try and educate help others from experience.”
Cottrell’s personal connection with the community helps him stay in touch with his job, but he also demonstrated his drive to help others without the badge. Years before becoming a police officer, Cottrell performed CPR on a man who had collapsed at the YMCA and was able to save his life. Cottrell received a Red Cross Heroism Award for his actions, although he felt he didn’t need it.
“I didn’t think much of it,” Cottrell said. “I got recognized with a heroism award and all this stuff, which I really didn’t need because it was just like you’re doing your job, right?”
The story only came together much later, however, when Cottrell witnessed the true effects of his actions.
“It hit home a few years later; I saw him in downtown Los Altos… with his grandkid,” Cottrell said. “If I hadn’t been able to do that, he may not have been there for [his grandkid].”
Cottrell is responsible for coordinating various presentations, often regarding cyberbullying or substance abuse, with kids from kindergarten up to high school. Watching students learn from his advice and make a change is a largely rewarding aspect of his job and a main reason he became a police officer. Cottrell took his opportunity to work with students and schools, where he feels he can make the biggest impact.
“The opportunity I have right now, [as a] school resource officer, I can reach out and help kids develop and make better choices,” Cottrell said.
His contribution to the community helps the younger generation learn about learning from their mistakes, and Cottrell enjoys being able to facilitate that. But he didn’t just snap his fingers and become a police officer. He experienced some of his most challenging days at the Police Academy and the extensive training process, but never lost sight of his goal to help transform lives. It keeps Cottrell focused on what matters and the ultimate impact he wants to make.
“It comes back to whether you want it or not, and you put your feet down, you grind in, just do better the next day… I’m not quitter,” Cottrell said.
In the locker room of a 24 Hour Fitness, Robbie Parry spotted a man having convulsions on the ground. He immediately recognized the seizure and rushed over to help, but quickly noticed that no one else seemed to be bothered.
“People were just walking over him like there wasn’t anything happening,” Parry said.
In fact, the man was chewing through his own mouth during the seizure, as a result of his mouth being clamped down so hard. Parry and a friend were able to clear the area, but there’s not much you can do during a seizure. Still, Parry found himself beyond frustrated by the unwillingness of others to step in. And this wasn’t the first time Parry had found himself the only one stepping into a situation to help. Parry soon discovered his ability to remain calm under pressure could be useful outside the locker rooms, and he was inclined to use his skills to serve a greater cause.
Parry’s interest in firefighting had sparked from incidents in everyday life, and he was able to translate them into a skill that he could give back to the community with. Though he had some training as an Eagle Scout, Parry found that the biggest difference after becoming a firefighter was the teamwork it promoted that he was unable to find anywhere else.
“I think the best part is giving back and being a part of community… you really develop great teamwork and a bond,” Parry said. “It was a nice new atmosphere that wasn’t used to but I really enjoyed being a part of.”
A large aspect of firefighting is being able to work as a team, and Parry appreciated that while they were on a scene, everyone could be working on something separately, but they were also looking out for each other and working towards the same goal. Sometimes a helicopter needs to land on a scene but a patient needs to be taken care of, and while those are a very different set of skills, they are contributing towards the same objective.
Through firefighting, Parry was not only able to help others, but he also saw improvements in his own character. Parry began to hold himself to a higher standard because he represented a larger organization, and found himself being more careful about his actions.
“It’s not like I’m wearing my hat or my shirt and going the bar and getting all drunk,” Parry said. “[Otherwise] People will go ‘Psh I don’t want that guy saving me, I don’t want that department.’”
Parry’s experience as a volunteer firefighter has changed his outlook both on the world and himself. Through volunteering, he has had the opportunity to see a more generous side of humanity, and appreciates knowing that there are other first responders and volunteers who are doing the same work as him.