In the Guardian EMS building on Fourth Street, Guardian HR director Tracy Pitts held a co-worker’s brand new blue jacket with a name and other identifying information embroidered on the chest.
Rebecca Wells. EMT-P (Emergency Medical Technician — Paramedic).
Guardian employees just got new company jackets Friday, but Rebecca Wells — Becky — never got to wear hers. The 47-year-old woman was found dead in her home Tuesday, three days after having an appendectomy. The cause of death is unknown, and an autopsy has been ordered.
“We deal with this stuff every day,” said paramedic Jennifer Trowbridge. “When it hits one of us, it’s very traumatic for everybody.”
For the Guardian employees who gathered in a room, it was the first time they’d experienced the death of a co-worker.
“We come back crying from scenes,” paramedic Tara Bradley said. “Usually you can leave it. This hasn’t left anybody. We don’t know how to handle it. We don’t know how to react to it. There’s an unwritten rule: EMS people are excluded from death.”
It’s not that the Guardian folks are unaffected by bad calls involving people they don’t know. Death hits them hard.
They described the sense of dread that hits them when they’re dispatched to a call of a baby not breathing.
At the scene, they set their personal reactions aside and concentrate on the person who needs their help. “It doesn’t mean they’re not crying on the way to the hospital,” Tara said. “We come back here and cry.”
They go on, get ready for the next call.
“We can’t put her away,” said paramedic Jimmy Trowbridge, noting that Becky’s co-workers had found her stethoscope on an ambulance Wednesday morning.
Becky Wells didn’t stand out in a crowd, but she was dedicated to EMS and to her children, her co-workers explained. She did everything asked of her and never complained.
She’d been with Guardian for about three years, and she’d met the challenge of being a single mom and learning the EMS business, her co-workers said.
She was a former massage therapist, and “we kind of let that continue here,” Tara said, prompting laughter.
“Between EMS and her kids — that was her life,” Jimmy said.
“She was like a second mom to a lot of us,” Jennifer said.
“She was genuine. She never asked for any credit,” EMT Kasey Hoffman said.
Becky had just recently obtained her paramedic certification, and Tuesday would have been her first shift as a paramedic in charge of her own ambulance, her co-workers said. She was excited at the prospect.
“It’s hard to meet your professional goals under the best of circumstances,” Tracy said.
Becky worked Saturday but didn’t get through her shift. She went to the emergency room with abdominal pains, and was operated on later that day. She was sent home Monday, doing well.
Tuesday morning, she sat on the couch as her twin 14-year-old daughters left for school, a sheriff’s deputy’s report states. They came home in the afternoon to find their mother unresponsive on the couch.
Guardian EMS was summoned, but there was nothing they could do. “It was so final, hearing (the) call for the JP over the radio,” Tara said.
“Here’s her jacket,” Tracy said, holding the garment that Becky will never wear.
Others showed photos of their blond co-worker that were saved on camera phones.
They said they’ll start a scholarship in Becky’s name to help someone go to EMT school.
As the HR director, Tracy doesn’t go on calls. But she sees the crews when they return — “high-fiving and excited after saving a life,” upset and distraught after a bad call.
“When everybody came back yesterday nobody knew what to say,” Tracy said.
Two employees carried in a wreath shaped like angel’s wings. “We just wanted her to be remembered,” Tara said.
She summed up the loss of their friend, family member and co-worker: “A loss of one of our guardian angels.”
Steve Nash writes his column for the Brownwood Bulletin on Thursdays. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.