Past Paramedics Swap Stories

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A lot has changed in the past 36 years for the Newport Beach Fire Department (NBFD) paramedics. The equipment, techniques and tools used by today’s paramedics have all been modified over the years.

But the one thing that never changes is the commitment and passion to provide quality service to the community, said retired deputy chief Tom Arnold, who was on the original paramedic team in 1975.

“It’s worked really well for many years,” Arnold said. “It was fun to be a pioneer in that… I wouldn’t have traded that experience for anything.”

Arnold and retired Battalion Chief Don Jones, another paramedic from the original team, joined current NBFD paramedics and other fire department employees at the Fashion Island fire station for a luncheon recently. The luncheon was part of the fire department’s Centennial Celebration.

Paramedic Dean Rush listens to retired deputy chief Tom Arnold talk about the original NBFD paramedic crew. — Photo by Sara Hall

The group talked about how the paramedic crew began, the changes over the years and swapped stories.

Most of the stories told were more about the working atmosphere, the environment and the camaraderie rather than specific calls or moments. And that’s still the same for today’s paramedics, said fire paramedic Bryan Carter.

“I could tell the same exact stories, just with a different cast of characters,” Carter said. “It’s the work relationships, the experiences and the crew (we) work with… The whole experience.”

Sharing stories and experiences is important for the new crew, Carter said, and to learn about where the program started and the groundwork that Arnold and Jones and the rest of the original team set, he added.

Hopefully  chats with Arnold and Jones, as well as other retired firefighters and paramedics, give the newer crews some perspective of where they started and where they‘re at today, Arnold said. All the frustrations it can get better and it will get better, but they need to always strive for that quality and stay committed.

It’s taken years to get the routine worked out and get everything to fit together, Carter said.

The unit went into service October 8, 1975 and their first call was a 74-year-old stroke patient.  A second unit was added May 9, 1977.

Retired Battalion Chief Don Jones listens to Tom Arnold tell a story about the original paramedic team. — Photo by Sara Hall

“We worked as first aiders before we worked as paramedics,” Arnold said. “And what we could do was very restricted…. (As paramedics) we learned the training and the tools to really save somebody’s life.”

Before the paramedic training they were used to simply “sticking a Band-Aid on someone and sending them off,” Jones said. The paramedic training allowed them to treat critical patients and do their best to stabilize the patient until they reached the emergency room, Arnold said.

“We were an emergency room on wheels… We brought the emergency room to them,” Arnold said. “It was a quantum leap in our ability to provide care for the community.”

They were based out of the Fashion Island fire station and went all over town from there, Jones said. They also responded to calls on the peninsula by taking the ferry rather than driving around, Jones added, it was faster. They soon worked out a routine with the ferry so that a path would be cleared for the paramedics when they heard the siren coming.

And it was a team effort, Jones said, the paramedic and fire crew were both involved.

“It took involving the staff and crew on the engines, or whatever unit came along. It took everyone to handle all the equipment, get everything set up,” Jones said. “The entire department turned into part of the paramedic team in the end.”

It became a team of people that worked together in a harmonious and quick fashion, Arnold added.

The original 1975 NBFD paramedic crew. — Courtesy Newport Beach Fire Department

“You can save a life and you can save a quality of life,” Arnold said. “And that’s where seconds count.”

Over the years, the overall mission and the commitment to the service hasn’t changed, Carter said. What has changed, like the techniques and equipment, is largely in part to what the original team and the paramedics in the beginning years discovered and worked out.

All of the training, procedures and information is passed down through the generations of paramedics and firefighters, but nothing helps the new recruits learn like firsthand experience though. So it becomes very important that the right kind of people are chosen for the job, people that can handle that kind of experience.

“I am very proud and very confident of the new generation. They’re doing a terrific job,” Arnold said. “It makes me feel good, especially since I might be a patient someday.”

NBFD Paramedics Current and Past: (left to right) Firefighter Cory Freeman, Engineer Brent Conklin, retired Battalion Chief Don Jones, retired Deputy Chief Tom Arnold, Paramedic Bryan Carter and Captain Mike Liberto. — Photo by Sara Hall
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