First Responders: The Unsung Heroes

By Kris Ward

Photos by Bernard Clark

If you undertake a career as a first responder, you know that holidays and birthdays may not be celebrated on the actual day and that date nights and family outings could be delayed if an emergency arises or you're called in to lend a hand. This is the life of a police officer, a firefighter and a paramedic, but the sacrifices are worth the rewards. They don’t do it for the glory or acknowledgement, they shy away from accolades or special recognition. It is part of their day to day and is ingrained in their DNA.

Often working in tandem, the first responders: police, fire and paramedics are the ones who run in when everyone else is running out. They are the unsung rescue heroes, offering help, tending to wounds, extinguishing fires and taking down criminals. They are also the ones who become part of the community thread, pitching in and offering a sense of security.

With the Paramedic program offered in Cornwall, the Pre-Service Fire Education and Training program in Brockville and Police Foundations offered across our three campuses, we want to shed some light on these incredible individuals who put themselves on the line to be the first responders.

Kingston Police Officer Sherrie Edmunds graduated from Police Foundation program in 2008 and applied to Kingston Police, however she was not immediately hired. She worked in a group home in Belleville and volunteered with Victim Services Kingston Frontenac, Kingston’s Youth Diversion Program and coaching hockey. After her brother’s death, she began speaking at events.

Sherrie gained a new perspective on life after she became a liver donor, donating 70% of her liver to Queen’s University professor Dr. Chris Mueller. Her selfless act has been profiled in MacLean’s and the Kingston Whig-Standard and she was featured in Voyageur Magazine’s Spring 2010 edition. They kept in touch over the years and continue to connect on the anniversary of the transplant.

Her candid speaking engagements about her brother’s suicide, heartfelt messages of healing, volunteer experience and giving nature helped spur a call from HR at the Kingston Police. They had retained her application and invited her to restart the interview process, which she did. In August 2012, Sherrie became a Kingston Police Constable, a position she retains today.

When she became a police officer, she experienced many rewarding days, knowing she’s making a difference. “There are so many stories I could share about when I knew I was making a difference, but one that really sticks out has a sweet ending. I was called to help with traffic at a grease fire. Firefighters extinguished the fire and cleared the house but time was passing and I could tell they seemed to be searching for something and offered to help. As it turned out the family dog was missing and the family was devastated. I took one last look at the entrance of the mudroom and behind a stroller I found a frightened dog.” Sherrie emerged with the missing dog and the family with young children saw she had recovered the dog. “When they realized I had the dog they ran up to me and asked can we hug you? I was blown away. Here a family loses all their material possessions in the fire, but that didn’t matter, the children and their beloved dog were okay, and in the end, that all that really mattered.” The firefighters on the scene jokingly said” Sure, take all the credit”. This jovial type of joking is not uncommon among the services.

Josh Massimo

Joshua Massimo knew as a young child he wanted to be a firefighter. He remembers watching them in parades and thinking someday that is what he wanted to be. His passion for firefighting continued throughout his childhood and adolescence. Towards the end of high school he decided to make his dream a reality.

Josh attended SLC directly out of high school and graduated from the Pre-Service Firefighter Education and Training program in 2008 at the Brockville campus. He volunteered at the Cardinal Fire Department in Edwardsburg where he worked alongside his good friends Shane Williams and Tyrone Wilson. While working at the Fire Station, he was also attending SLC’s Kingston campus taking the Plumbing program and was working full time in plumbing.

When he was studying pre-service fire, he was in a co-op placement with the Brockville Fire Department, and upon graduation, he kept close ties with them stopping by occasionally to see them, knowing in his heart, this is where he wanted to be. In January 2014, his dream became a reality and his hard work paid off as he joined the Brockville Fire Department as a Brockville Firefighter.

Josh wanted to be that guy who was able to help people on the worst day of their lives. He loves the fact that this is a career that offers continuous learning with firefighters required to take exams every year during their first five years and there is continual learning throughout the career and opportunities to learn new skills. It is also a very physical career and he is a physical guy. He recently obtained his Personal Trainer certification and is hoping to work with the Fire Dept. to establish a physical training program.

One thing about being a firefighter is the close friendships and extended family you make. Josh made an impression on his colleague Matt’s wife. She introduced him to her sister Alison Merkley and she has been with Josh ever since, being his support when he needs someone to talk to or just be beside him letting him know, he doesn’t need to say a word.

The Tyrone Wilson Gary Rutley Run that he and Shane Williams his good friend and former classmate organized, helped form the self-sustaining Tyrone Wilson-Gary Rutley Memorial Bursary. “I’m very proud of what Shane and I accomplished for the College and the program that meant so much to us and that honoured two men that had a strong impact on us; our friend and classmate Tyrone Wilson who passed away in 2009 and our program coordinator Captain Gary Rutley who suddenly passed away in 2011.” Their run helped students studying in the Pre-Service Fire Education and Training program and it continues to be offered each year to a deserving student.

Josh knew he was making a difference about a month or two after he joined the Brockville Fire Department. He was off duty but received a page about a house fire on the water. He enthusiastically joined the scene and geared up from head to toe ready to combat the fire. The Incident Commander saw the eager rookie. “When I arrived on scene, the Commander saw me and said, so you want to be a hero? Then take the gear off and go to the back of the truck.” Josh did as requested, to find a small cat, covered in soot and unable to breathe from smoke inhalation after being rescued from inside a mattress. Josh worked for about an hour administering oxygen to the cat. The home owners returned and gleefully reunited with their cat that Josh helped save. “On that day I realized how much of a difference we make, whether it is a beloved pet or family member, the reward of helping people on what could be the worst day of their life, is worth it.”

The firefighters collaboratively get involved with community events such as the Christmas Parade. As Josh participates in the parades he knows that out there some little boy or girl may be watching him and his fellow firefighters thinking, someday I want to be just like him.

James Doherty

James Doherty’s family had a dream to offer their children better opportunities to prosper when they emigrated from England with their three children when James was only 4 years old. James grew up knowing he wanted to help people.

He wanted to be in a career where he was surrounded by people that do amazing things. He knew that first responders are exceptional people and that is what he aspired to be. He attended Sir Sandford Fleming College and became an Ontario Fire Ranger operating “helitack” helicopter-delivered fire resources, aerial rescues and firefighting. Knowing he wanted to continue to help people but with a growing family, and a love for medical services, he decided to pursue a new career.

In 2003 he attended St. Lawrence College in Cornwall and became part of the first graduating class of 2005 Paramedic program. His preceptor was with the City of Cornwall’s Paramedic Services and he was among the first hires in Cornwall. As he became confident in his role, he aspired to do more within the service and now the SD&G Emergency Services Primary Care Paramedic is a Captain, he is also in rotation as the Community Paramedic and is part of the Health and Safety Committee.

James married his high school sweetheart and they now are parents to four children ranging in ages 4-13. She has been supportive of his various roles, before and after marriage and has been his partner throughout. Although his children don’t know the specific details of their dad’s heroic roles, they do think that the fact he gets to drive an ambulance and help people is pretty awesome.

James was driven to this altruistic career. “Paramedics do not think about being a hero. They do their job. What they can do in the back of an ambulance in twenty minutes is astounding, and I wanted to be one of them. We are doing cardio, orthopedic and use all kinds of life saving methods. But one of the most heroic things we can do is grab their hand and say, stay with me”.

James has a unique perspective of the first-responders services, having been both a firefighter and a paramedic and working closely with police services in both roles. “There is comradery between the services. When we arrive at a scene, no verbal communication is needed, a simple nod between us and we know. We understand the nature of the beast. We are pieces in a puzzle and each have something to do that makes it all fit together.”

When you look in a first responders’ eyes, you know they’ve seen things they can’t forget, they’ve been with people on the worst day of their lives, they’ve dealt with loss, but stoically, they continue to be there, ready when we need them.

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