ELKHART — From frozen doors to snowy driveways, first responders have been working around obstacles to help Elkhart County throughout the day.
Elkhart Fire Department Battalion Chief Dave Cushwa said that while the fire department had received a few more medical calls than average Monday, Jan. 6, it had not received very many accident or fire calls.
However, its response to medical calls has been slowed because of the snow and below-zero temperatures, forcing first-responders to having to carry their patients to or from the ambulance.
Barb Wenger received a call at about 6 a.m. Monday from her 101-year-old mother, who was feeling ill and wanted to go to the hospital. Wenger checked outside to see her driveway completely covered with snow and thought about how long it would take her to dig her car out of the driveway and drive to her mother’s house.
Instead, she told her mother to call 911.
The Elkhart Fire Department was dispatched to Osolo Township at about 6:15 a.m. to take Florence Aldrich, Wenger’s mother, to Elkhart General Hospital. The paramedics got Aldrich into the ambulance and drove her to the hospital.
But by the time they arrived at Elkhart General Hospital, paramedics realized the back doors of the ambulance had frozen shut, making it impossible to get Aldrich out on a stretcher.
That’s when acting Lieutenant Geoff Crist decided to carry Aldrich into the emergency room.
“That’s exactly what we want our guys to do,” Cushwa said about the fire crew. “They did an outstanding job of making the best out of a bad situation, the circumstances that happened.”
Aldrich was treated and released to Wenger, who is now taking care of her mother.
“I took her home and she actually ate a little bit and she’s taking a nap now, but she said she’s feeling 100 percent better,” Wenger said.
When Wenger arrived at the hospital she was told about the paramedic who carried her mother into the hospital and thought she wanted to thank him and the crew who responded.
“I’m so grateful that we have such wonderful personnel in our county and city. I just want to extend a warm wish of thanks and blessing to the crew that worked on my mom, made sure she made it safe for the hospital and then the paramedic who went the extra mile and actually carried her in,” she said.
In the county, township fire departments battled snowy driveways and roads to get to residents.
Troy Stout, a firefighter EMT with the Osolo Township Fire Department, said he had to carry a woman to the ambulance through the snow.
The fire department was dispatched at about 10 a.m. to the patient’s house, but the driveway was covered in snow, so the fire crews cleaned it so they could park the ambulance. Stout carried the elderly woman to the ambulance because of the condition of the driveway.
In Concord and Baugo townships, fire crews and paramedics faced the same problems, helping each other with plows.
Brian Gonzales, assistant chief with the Baugo Township Fire Department, said the department has a plow on one of its trucks, and that several counties got together and prearranged mutual aid in case of snow-related emergencies.
“There’s just a better working relationships with other departments.”
The Baugo Township Fire Department was called a few times Sunday and then again Monday morning to help plow driveways for other first-responders, Gonzales said.
“The quick accumulation of the snow is always a real pain because we always have to drag equipment in and out along with the patient,” Gonzales said. “And then you tag on the fact that the wind chill is so cold.”
But working around any obstacles to get to those who need them is just another part of their job, Gonzales said.
“It’s kind of an old thing but we’re Jacks-of-all-trades, we’re doers, that’s why everybody calls the fire department,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what the problem is, they’re going to call the fire department.”