EMS employees are prepared for all types of nights, ranging from silent, calm ones with few or no calls to those that are nonstop. Preceptor Rich Donohue (left), an 11-year veteran, said work is usually calm while the bars are still open and the department tends to have its craziest calls after they close.
It’s a relatively calm and routine Saturday night with the College Park EMS team. The bars are still open, meaning things probably won’t pick up for a couple more hours.
Preceptor Rich Donohue, an 11-year department veteran, is working overtime with the College Park station instead of his usual District Heights team. He’s showing intern Kyle Hastings the ropes — an easy task, he says, because Hastings already has years of experience — but then, there’s a call about a small child having a seizure.
The unit sets out. Medical supplies line the shelves of the ambulance, rattling around during a particularly bumpy ride.
“Some people drive really bad,” Donohue jokes. “Makes you want to throw up back there.”
When paramedics are inside the ambulance, they see hardly a sliver of the outside world, other than the small rear window that provides little directional information. There’s no reason to focus anywhere else.
By the time they arrive on the scene, there’s already another ambulance there. Donohue takes charge on arrival as he consoles the frantic, crying child while recording medical history from the child’s mother. He performs his tasks seamlessly.
Donohue has a soft spot for kids. He has young children of his own, so calming and taking care of them is second nature.
“They’re always going to be scared in the beginning. A 3- or 4-year-old won’t answer you, but they’ll look you in the eyes,” he said. “That tugs at my heart.”
Within a few minutes, the chaos surrounding the scene has calmed, and the child sleeps on the way to the hospital. Seizures consume energy, Hastings says, leaving the person exhausted and in dire need of rest.
Hastings puts in a call to a local hospital to make sure the child can be treated there. Upon arrival, Donohue and Hastings brief the hospital emergency room staff on the child’s condition. Hardly a few minutes pass before a helicopter lands to bring another patient through.
Once the hospital has all of the information, there isn’t much the paramedics can do. But Donohue likes to check on patients before he leaves, and Hastings still has some paperwork to finish before the unit heads out, awaiting the next call.
After the first call, the night slows down. The ride home is much smoother.
Back at the station, a map of Prince George’s County that includes all of the calls and priorities is projected onto a screen, while college football plays on another. There isn’t much going on right now, so EMS employees complete some paperwork, take care of some restocking and do a host of other housekeeping tasks that continually get pushed aside in the unpredictability of each day.
Some days are nonstop. But on others, Donohue works for eight hours without a single call.
“It will start picking up when the bars close,” he said. “There’s enough to do [in the meantime].”
These are the times when crazy calls come in, he said. When he worked for the fire service, Donohue remembers being called to help pump a flooded basement one night and seeing former Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien at the scene of a car accident on another.
College Park is much quieter than Donohue’s normal station in District Heights, where he is more likely to respond to a drug call than a drunken student. Both are equally rewarding to him, but there is a comfort in knowing the streets he patrols well.
There’s enough time to watch the halftime show and part of the third quarter of a college football game before dispatch notifies the station of another incident. Information is printed off, and the unit is on call again.
An elderly woman is having difficulty breathing, and the unit rattles along to her house. A family member’s hairspray had irritated the woman’s lungs. Donohue talks to family members to get a feel for the situation, while Hastings administers medical tests and gives the woman oxygen.
Once she regains her breath, Hastings asks the woman if she wants to be transported to the hospital. She declines, so the unit heads back to the station to wait for the next call.
Both calls on the slow night were routine, but it doesn’t matter. Donohue loves the job because of its unpredictable nature, he said. Some nights are slow and routine, while others are action-packed — far from the typical 9-to-5 job, he added. Maybe there wasn’t a lot to do, but to Donohue, it was a successful night.
“I’d call anything a success if they’re alive at the end,” he said. “As long as you didn’t get worse, then it’s a success.”