Rescue Lines – Fall 2015 – Cover Story: EMS Volunteers Are Never Off Duty

On a routine Wednesday, Virginia Beach Volunteer Rescue Squad (Station 14) Chief Ellen McBride was on her way home from a busy 12-hour shift.

As she drove down Atlantic Avenue, she noticed a large plume of smoke. First thinking it was coming from Fort Story, she then spotted orange flames and realized it was a home on Atlantic between 72nd and 73rd Street.

As a station chief, Ellen had her radio, but she hadn’t heard a call, and there were no first responders on scene. She immediately called dispatch as she pulled over, parked on the median across the street and walked toward the house.

“It was astonishing,” she says. “The entire third floor was fully involved with flames showing from every window. The heat was incredible.”

The neighbors were frantic, using garden hoses to calm the flames. One grabbed Ellen to point out a teenaged boy who had just walked out of the enflamed home. He was holding a computer, and his hair was singed and covered with soot.

“He seemed to be fine physically, and he confirmed nobody else was in the house, but he was in shock, so I stayed with him,” Ellen recalls.

CoverStory2Ellen almost immediately heard fire sirens coming down Shore Drive, and police began blocking off the surrounding roads. Soon after, an Ocean Park Volunteer Rescue Squad ambulance driven by off-duty volunteer Brant Schultheis arrived. He had heard the call and drove to the station to pick up a vehicle for “fire standby,” which refers to the ambulatory care provided to residents and firefighters who need rehab during an incident.

Katherine Taylor, another VBVRS member who lives close by, also came over along with a number of off-duty administrative volunteers who were helpful with communicating the status of the situation to concerned onlookers.

“We gathered whatever supplies we could find from my car and Katherine’s house to begin rehab,” explains Ellen. “The three of us (off-duty volunteers) stayed until about 9:30 p.m. when we turned care over to an on-duty crew from Station 14.”

Ready to head home, Ellen went back to her car to find it covered in police tape. Between that and the road blockages, she had no choice but to walk the remaining six blocks. Exhausted, she reflected on her day, grateful for being at the right place at the right time.

“Any of our volunteers would have done the same thing,” she says. “We have the mindset of helpers; we are ready, willing and thankfully able to help around the clock, whether we’re on duty or not. And a few minutes can sometimes make all the difference in a patient outcome.”

Incidents like this, when a nearby off-duty EMS volunteer jumps in to help, happen all the time.

“Volunteering helps you become more confident in your skills, so in these situations, we don’t hesitate,” Ellen continues. “We just do what we need to do.”