When the chips are down, first responders shine  

  • Concord firefighter and paramedic Beth Davin puts on the mask that goes with the breathing apparatus they use for fires. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Concord Fire Captain Alan Robidas at the site of a call at Alton Woods last month. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord firefighter and paramedic Beth Davin sits in the back of Ambulance 7 and illustrates where she sits when she is with a patient. The crew tapes up the inside of the ambulance to help clean and disinfect after each patient. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Concord firefighter and paramedic Beth Davin sits in the back of Ambulance 7 and illustrates where she sits when she is with a patient. The crew tapes up the inside of the ambulance to help clean and disinfect which they do after every ride with a patient. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The crew from Concord Engine and Ambulance 7 leave the scene of a call at Alton Woods last month. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord firefighter and paramedic Beth Davin leads the rest of the firefighting crew from Engine and Ambulance 7 after a call at Alton Woods last month.

  • Concord firefighter and paramedic Beth Davin puts on the mask that goes with SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) that they use for fires. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 5/2/2020 6:26:35 PM

Her safety garb is white and glows from the lights inside the back of the ambulance.

Her knees practically touch the patient on the gurney beside her. The patient is oftentimes elderly, has been coughing a lot, has a fever, might have the coronavirus, and, yes, might die.

That’s been part of Beth Davin’s field of vision lately. She’s a firefighter and paramedic, part of a tight team within the Concord Fire Department, at the station up on the Heights. I sat down with five staff members in the station’s conference room recently to meet people who zoom toward an illness that, in extreme cases, can kill you.

In the Heights ambulance, patients see a bright figure above them, coming face-to-face with a guardian angel wearing a stethoscope like a scarf. She’s a medical professional, sure, but her coaching skills are good, too.

“I’ve learned I can do a lot of things before I need to do everything with medicines and all the things in my paramedic toolkit,” said Davin, a 30-year-old Vermont transplant. “It’s very simple, just treating them like human beings, whether it’s talking someone down who’s hyperventilating, or who’s nervous, or who is anxious and it’s just getting worse for them.”

Familiarity breeds closeness, and that’s the case with Davin and firefighter Keith Richardson, who’s been with the Concord department for 12 years, was named the state’s Fireman of the Year in 2016.

He served as Davin’s preceptor during her training. He helps her in the back of the ambulance if she needs him.

Davin and Richardson were joined by Captain Alan Robidas, and firefighters/EMTs Mike Souther and Todd Beall. We sat in plush chairs with wheels, and there was a minimal but noticeable tendency to roll back a few feet, making sure we were practicing proper social distancing.

They represent the professionals who have received praise and applause during dark times for helping people who we’d avoid.

As of late last week, none of their patients had been tested before Engine 7 arrived, creating a level of tension that Robidas and his people handle through preparedness.

They listen to the dispatcher, consciously waiting for buzzwords, like breathing problem, coughing, shortness of breath, fever. Age of course, fills out the profile.

The captain said he knows the score, no testing needed.

“We definitely have come into contact with people who have been infected,” Robidas said.

It’s hard to imagine that a few months ago, even as word spread like the virus, rules were lax, vision unclear.

Nothing was needed for a routine call. Now, it’s mask, gloves, glasses, for someone complaining about a noisy fan. A fever, and it’s an apron, a gown and face gear, with a mask and protruding filter that brings you back to the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

“It’s always in the back of your mind, what can happen,” said Souther, who graduated from Concord High School in 1985. “Now I have to wear a mask. Now we listen to the calls to see what the signs or symptoms are. We have to know immediately.”

Their occupational hazards stray far from their fire station, to their homes. Beall’s mischievous grin and hearty laugh are a staple at the station, helping to lighten what can be a stressful job. Nowadays, though, humor is a basic necessity, like food and water.

“I would say it’s how we deal with a lot of stress around here, because there’s a silent stress,” Beall said. “And it’s not just in the job, but when you get out of the job, like going home.”

Beall’s wife, Elizabeth, is no longer there. First, she played by strict rules when it came to keeping a safe distance from her husband. Then she started sleeping upstairs, leaving him in the downstairs bedroom. Then she got on a plane with four other passengers and flew to Florida.

“She took the six-foot distance thing to a whole new level,” Beall said, causing unified laughter.

Six feet does little for rescue personnel. The equipment they use was spread on a table in the cavernous garage that houses the station’s vehicles, including Engine 7.

Our show-and-tell session ended when a 10:45 a.m. call came in. From an elder gentleman whom the crew of Engine 7 had met before. He lived at Alton Woods, a 10-minute drive.

I sat where Davin works her magic, where she calms worried minds in the back of the ambulance, trying to make the bright white sheets and gurney feel a tad more comfortable.

The lights in back went off and gizmos on the side panels, buttons and arrows and lights and numbers, continued to shine, with clear plastic tarps protecting the equipment, attached with blue tape.

Engine 7 trailed us, seen through the two back window panels. Lights and siren, of course, announced their quest to help someone.

I recalled what Davin had told me, that she sits in close with the patient in this tight, scary space, looking more like Matt Damon in The Martian than a medical professional with a big heart. She said that she explains to her patients what to expect, that people with gowns and masks and shields and gloves will greet them at the hospital. They may enter through a back door.

If the telltale signs are spotted, even one, Robidas and Davin enter the apartment building first, in full spacesuit, gauging how much protection will be needed.

She’s the lone voice heard during this procedure from start to finish. That’s her job.

“Just painting them a picture so they can understand what’s about to happen, because sometimes it can be scary for them,” Davin said. “I think people are worried they’re going to die, and that is a conversation we might have, and I’m assuring them that we’re going to take good care of them.”

Davin wore white and took her position in the ambulance

eets on the gurney, showing how she does her job in the glowing light.

A call came in later, at about 10:45 a.m. A senior had fallen at Alton Woods. The heavy defenses were not necessary. Masks and gloves were.

Twenty-minutes after arriving, four from the station came down the stairs, single file, in a hallway that echoed their steps.

The man, who had fallen, used his medical alert button to call for help.

“We see him all the time,” Davin said.

It was a light moment during a serious time. The man was fine. Davin said he can be grouchy, and sometimes he yells at her because, she speculated, her voice doesn’t carry as well as the men’s voices do.

When it counts, though, patients hear her words. And they see her shine.

“I’m assuring them that we’re going to take good care of them,” Davin told me. “Sometimes it’s just reassuring them to a certain extent. I can’t lie to them, but I can listen to them.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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