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Walking with a member of the Johnson County Rescue Squad

By Lacy Hilliard
There are heroes among us. For some, the face of these heroes will be the last thing they ever see. For others, their heroic presence is the reason those in need lived to see another day. Arriving with sirens blaring and a fully equipped mobile emergency room, these heroes are the men and women of the Johnson County Rescue Squad. If you’ve ever needed them, you already know their capabilities, but if you’ve been fortunate enough to evade making the dreaded call, the heroic efforts of the Johnson County Rescue Squad may have gone unnoticed.
Willie DeBord, the Assistant Director of Johnson County EMS is a 36-year veteran and beloved member of the Johnson County Rescue Squad team. DeBord sat down with The Tomahawk in order to illuminate the ins and outs of a day in the life of an emergency medical technician or paramedic. In 2013, the Rescue Squad handled a little over 5,000 calls and the only thing each call had in common was urgency. Even though EMTs and paramedics arrive on a scene with some idea of what the situation will entail, far more often they must expect the unexpected.
DeBord runs a tight ship and the first thing Rescue Squad emergency medical technicians and paramedics must do when arriving for a shift is to make sure that their ambulance is clean, stocked, full of fuel and ready to go. The ambulances housed in the Rescue Squad garage are virtually spotless, as is the facility. DeBord takes pride in the impressive equipment and facilities that make up the Johnson County Rescue Squad and his pride shows. After Squad Members assess their vehicle and ensure that it’s emergency ready, they prepare mentally and physically for whatever may come. The day or night ahead will be unpredictable. Some days the Rescue Squad will field one or two calls while other days there they may get over a dozen. Even though each crew rotates calls, days exist where there’s no end in sight.
In DeBord’s 36 years, he has seen just about everything. In his early career as an EMT, he responded to a call from a young pregnant woman that was in distress. “This was back when Johnson County had a full service hospital,” said DeBord “she was really young and hadn’t had any prenatal care. All of the sudden, the girls sister is yelling ‘hurry up, the baby is coming’.” “My partner left to get an OB (obstetrics) kit from the truck and the next thing I know, she’s having a baby boy right there on the couch,” said DeBord. The mother and baby were both in perfect health and that proved to be one call that DeBord wouldn’t soon forget. Even though that was DeBord’s first experience with a call of that nature, he has since delivered at least half a dozen babies. Just last year, Rescue Squad crews played stork to four bouncing babies that
The birth of baby is typically viewed as a joyous event, however, many of the calls that the Rescue Squad responds to are not quite as cheerful. The dramatic calls are also unforgettable, but for very different reasons. When asked the most challenging call he’s ever responded to, emotion immediately became apparent on DeBord’s face; “I responded to a car accident once and two little boys were involved. One of the boys was fine, but the other was in bad shape. I remember the little boy saying to me ‘Don’t let my brother die,’ but he did pass away later at the hospital. You do a lot of good and you save a lot of lives but it’s always a lot harder when there are children involved, especially after you become a parent. It’s part of the job but you never forget it,” he said.
A career as long as DeBord’s is a rarity in this field. In larger cities, emergency medical personnel often burnout after just five to seven years. DeBord attributes this to the amount of violence that technicians and paramedics play witness to in metropolitan areas. “We’re fortunate in Johnson County. We just don’t see as much of the violence,” he said.
Though the Johnson County Rescue Squad may not experience as many instances of violence as seen in more populated areas, they still find themselves in their fair share of dangerous situations. Rescue Squad members are often called to crime scenes where any number of scenarios may be unfolding before them. Transporting patients that are high on methamphetamine can prove to be a dangerous situation because the person has often lost all sense of reality. “I’ve been spit on, kicked at and punched,” said DeBord “and often times the very next day the person can’t believe they behaved that way. They don’t even remember it.” Other Rescue Squad members have arrived on a scene where shots were being fired while others have harrowing stories to tell in reference to dealing with mental health patients. It’s perhaps difficult to imagine that being an emergency medical technician or paramedic would be a dangerous job, but the men and women of the Johnson County Rescue Squad are no strangers to putting their lives on the line.
Because Rescue Squad workers spend so much time on the road in every possible weather condition, the threat of being involved in an automobile accident is a very real fear. Willie DeBord was involved in a serious head-on collision that resulted in DeBord a helicopter tour courtesy of WINGS Air Rescue. “There’s no guarantee that you’re going to be safe,” said DeBord. However, taking the place of his patients gave him a better understanding of the task at hand. “When you’ve gone through something similar, it definitely makes it easier to sympathize with your patients,” said DeBord. Regardless of the ever-looming threat, DeBord reported that for that amount of mileage the Johnson County Rescue Squad travels, they have relatively had very few incidents.
The Johnson County Rescue Squad handled over 5,000 calls in 2013 but the team agrees they couldn’t do it alone. The Rescue Squad works closely with First Responders who have proven themselves invaluable to patient care. Because Johnson County is vast and remote, the Rescue Squad often relies on First Responders to make it to the scene before they can. First Responders are all volunteers and Rescue Squad members know that the success of their endeavors is often dependent on these upstanding men and women.
Willie DeBord has spanned generations in his time at the Rescue Squad and he is still amazed at how far the facility and program has come. Founded in 1967 by a group of 13 men, the modern-day Rescue Squad has perhaps outgrown even the dream of its forefathers. The job at hand changes day by day and new technology is constantly giving way to new treatments and updated techniques. The members of the Rescue Squad are constantly learning and evolving, but as for Willie DeBord, “I’m here for the same reason I was 36 years ago and that is to help people.”
The paramedics and technicians that dedicate their lives to the safety, health and betterment of their communities deserve recognition. Even though you may have never needed them, they’ve always been there, waiting to respond to the call that could save your life.