The ambulance rounded the corner and pulled in front of the stopped traffic. It proceeded down Main Street at a steady pace. Then the light changed and fate had me right behind it.
Clearly there was a medical issue being handled in the back of that fire department ambulance. Through the clear glass of the rear windows of the vehicle I could see the EMT or maybe he was a paramedic, working to administer aid to the white-haired patient on the gurney.
While the first responder was working diligently with medical equipment to tend to the patient's need, a second firefighter was by the man's side doing his best to calm the stressed man. All of this was being accomplished while the men in uniform kept their balance in a moving vehicle. It was like watching one of those reality shows, but this truly was real.
The ambulance turned to go to Ohio Valley Medical Center, whisking its patient to the emergency room.
I know this scene is repeated time and time again across the Ohio Valley, and in most communities we are fortunate enough to have fire departments that answer these calls for help.
And in a community with an aging population, the demand for help, especially medical emergency calls, is increasing daily. Just ask any fire chief or weary paramedic. It's not just heart attacks and strokes or car crashes that send these e-cars running. Daily there are calls to assist a person back in bed or to help a patient into the house where steps make it nearly impossible without help.
There are some people who call the fire department to their homes because they are scared or cold or confused or they fell and need help getting up. And the men and women in bunker coats always go, even when they know it's more an emergency of loneliness than a broken arm or heart attack.
Some of these older residents do not have anyone to help them or even anyone to talk to on a regular basis. The e-squad members become like family.
I worry when I hear talk of cutting staff in fire and police departments. In Wheeling, especially, the paramedics are run ragged. Look at the number of high rises and elder-care facilities that are a constant destination for these emergency crews. The population may be dropping, but it's also aging.
I agree there is waste in government in just about every city and town, but to start picking apart the safety forces would be a disservice to our communities.
As a reporter I have stood and watched as firefighters and paramedics race to save lives and buildings only to hear the armchair quarterbacks in the crowd make disparaging comments about their efforts. Try walking in their boots before you open your mouth and insert your feet. Some day you just might be the patient on the gurney looking up at one of these guys and you'll be glad they are there.
Heather Ziegler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.