By Darrin J. Cook
9/11/2001. A day filled with anger, shock, pain, and vulnerability. It was also a day that brought national attention to the challenges and sacrifices our first responders face daily. Imagine the incredible sense of responsibility the firefighters, EMTs, and police officers felt as they rushed toward the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center. This isn’t something that can be easily described. You have to be a first responder, or at least have one in your family, to understand.
My father, Jim Cook, was on the Middlefield Fire Department for several years, and my stepmother Nancy was on the Ladies Auxiliary for as many. The Middlefield Fire Department became an extension of our family. Although my father passed away a few years ago I still hear him tell the stories, some light-hearted, others horrifying. There was the plane crash, several automobile accidents, countless structure fires and everything inbetween. You could tell by the pauses which ones affected him the most. The way he was honored at his funeral by his brothers and sisters on the department will never be forgotten.
For a short period of time I was a member of Station 22 in West Farmington. I wasn’t there long enough to even be considered a true First Responder, but I was there long enough to understand what it takes to become one. I worked with a great group of men and women. They lived and breathed it. They understood the importance of it. They were ready for anything.
There are several departments in and around Geauga County, some are volunteer, others paid, but the risks remain the same. The structure fire doesn’t care if you get a check or not. I had the privilege of suiting up for a few, minus the mask and tanks. You need to have the proper training for those. To be a Volunteer Firefighter isn’t as easy as just walking up to the Chief and signing on. In order to be considered a Volunteer requires a minimum 36 hour course. This is only an awareness level course so if you are a Volunteer you can’t be subject to any IDLH (Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health) situations. You can assist, however, which I was able to do. An outbuilding fire on Bundysburg Road north was my first one. Nothing like laying hose while flames licked a propane tank. The training intensifies for every level above Volunteer: Firefighter 1 and Firefighter 2, Firefighter/EMT, Firefighter/Paramedic, Driver Engineer, and more, including the familiar ranking of Lieutenant, Captain, and Chief.
I would be remiss not to mention the Paramedics and EMT’s on the department. They were something to watch! I remember a call on Curtis-Middlefield Road, at a sawmill, that involved a young man with a serious head injury. The quick thinking that took place once the injury was assessed was astounding. This particular call required Lifeflight, locally based out of Middlefield airport. Initially the helicopter is guided in via GPS, but visual guidance is usually needed in tight spaces to set it down safely.
EMTs and Paramedics aren’t immune to the long, intensive training requirements. The minimum hours for training at each level is 40 hours for Emergency Response Technician, 120 hours for EMT-basic, 320 hours for EMT-Intermediate (in addition to EMT-Basic) and 1000-1200 hours for EMT-Paramedic. Knowing anatomy, physiology, and electrocardiography (ECG) is absolutely required but this only scratches the surface.
Although my working experience has only been with firefighting, I have also been around police officers my entire life. My mother, Linda Hopkins, also recently passed, was a dispatcher for Upper Moreland Police Department as well as Calais Police Department in Maine. As a matter of fact, I think she did some dispatching in Middlefield back in the 60s. My mother instilled in me the utmost respect for police officers, likely because of her job, which routinely put her in a unique situation of knowing exactly what those officers were heading into. Much like firefighters and EMT’s, you can’t just walk into a police department and slap a badge on. To be a police officer also requires extensive training. Basic training for a police officer involves well over 500 hours and it can sometimes take up to a year to complete. Psychological, situational, and firearms training is just a part of it. Knowing the law is obviously important as well as Investigative training and knowing how to write reports. They also handle traffic control, and they are heavily involved in the community, teaching safety and awareness, especially to our children. All of this comes with the job. The continuing training is also rigorous, and the ever-changing laws alone can make this job a challenge. Considering any situation can immediately turn dangerous, officers must also possess a very high level of awareness. Many officers I have known over the years are great judges of character. They have an ability to read an individual and/or a situation quickly, allowing them to react accordingly.
Please take a moment to look on pages 6 and 7. You will find a collage of area firefighters, paramedics, police officers, sheriff deputies, and more. Find comfort in knowing these men and women stand ready to serve the moment we call upon them.