Myrtle Beach firefighters at Fire Station No. 1 are in the middle of making sandwiches for lunch.
Right at noon, they are interrupted. A call just came in for a possible drug overdose of a 2-year-old girl.
Engineer/paramedic Ross Porter grabs his lunch and heads to the ambulance to respond to the call.
He speeds down Mr. Joe White Avenue before turning on U.S. 17 Business, maneuvering through traffic and blowing the horn at drivers who won’t get out of the way.
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Within minutes, Porter pulls the ambulance into some villas off North Ocean Boulevard. He, along with firefighter/paramedic Joshua McCarthy, unload the stretcher out of the back and grab equipment to prepare for whatever they may face inside.
They carry everything up a few flights of stairs and go inside the room. Myrtle Beach police and other emergency personnel already are on scene.
Porter is told the little girl may have possibly eaten some anti-seizure medication because she was found in a room with pills broken up around her.
The girl is calmly sitting on a family member’s lap in one of the bedrooms. She appears to be alert and OK. But the family member explains how she wasn’t acting like her normal self and wanted to get her checked out at the hospital just in case.
On the way to Grand Strand Regional Medical Center, Porter consoles the girl with a pink teddy bear to keep her relaxed among all of the beeping medical equipment.
When they arrive, Porter checks her in to the emergency room and spends the next 45 minutes filling out a hospital report before going out on the next call of his 24-hour shift.
It’s calls involving children that greatly impact Porter, who is a father himself.
“Prior to having children, child calls didn’t affect me the way they do now,” Porter said. “It’s really tough on guys and girls that have children to run those calls. A lot of people will see their kid’s face on those kids. I once had a call with a child, and the kid was fine after the call and everything, but it really affected me to where … I just got emotional because I saw my son laying there.”
The ups and downs of the job
Originally from Ohio, Porter has worked as a paramedic with Myrtle Beach Fire Rescue for 10 years. The 35-year-old is stationed at Fire Station No. 1, the busiest in the city.
Medic 61, the ambulance at the station, has so far responded to more than 2,300 calls of all types this year, according to Lt. Jonathan Evans, spokesman for MBFR.
Porter and his fellow Myrtle Beach medics respond to everything from car wrecks, to unconscious people, to someone with an upset stomach. He said no call is the same, as every patient he treats has different needs.
And there are “good” calls, as well as “bad” calls.
“High points, you’ve got anything from literally saving someone’s life. I think that’s about as high as you can get in this career field,” Porter said. “As far as being out and treating patients, you have somebody that’s clinically dead and you can revive them and they can have a full functioning life after revival. I think that’s what everybody’s in the job to do — is save people.”
Porter considers a call to be successful if they treat someone in the field and make them feel better before they get to the hospital.
“It makes you feel good, it makes you feel ready for the next call,” he explained. “You feel like you’re ready to get back out there and do it again. Especially when it comes to a child … if you get the kid to the hospital and you find out the kid left and everything’s fine, and there’s no deficiencies from whatever element they had, it makes you feel really, really good.”
But on the other side, Porter said there are some people who abuse EMS and use it as a way to just get basic needs, such as a meal or a temporary place to stay.
“Sadly, there’s patients out there that maybe don’t need medical assistance, but they have no other avenue to get assistance, so they call 911,” Porter said. “After running several calls like that in a row, it can really take a toll on you mentally.”
People sometimes call 911 for minor illnesses or even fake their symptoms, which takes away an ambulance that can be used to transport someone who does need to go to the hospital. Evans did not have an exact number for those types of calls, but told The Sun News it “does happen fairly often.”
“We go out on a lot of regular calls, like a stubbed toe, stuff that makes you feel like you’re not truly helping anyone, you’re just giving them a ride,” McCarthy said. “But you’re still helping that person, regardless of what you’re thinking.”
What most people don’t realize about the job are the mental and physical demands, Porter said.
“There’s a physical aspect of it and we all do [physical training] and workout to be physically ready, but there’s also a mental aspect of it and it’s the call volumes, the sleepless nights,” Porter said. “The sleepless nights aren’t just at the firehouse when you’re running calls all night. It can be running a bad call that just replays in your mind over and over and over again.”
He said the mental aspect of the job is very draining at times, especially when it’s hard to sleep at home.
“You can go home and not sleep at home when you should be getting some of the best rest possible,” Porter said. “Because we all come into work knowing we’re probably not going to sleep at night. But when you go home, you just want to recharge the batteries and let it go, and sometimes you just can’t get that call out of your head.
“There could be a very bad motor vehicle accident and the sights, the sounds, the smells, you may be somewhere completely different and smell something kind of remotely close to that and it just triggers in your mind that whole call over again.”
But fortunately, Porter added, MBFR provides support after traumatic calls for their employees.
“You can offload a lot of that stress that’s held and they really try to have a very good mental health side of it to where you’re not putting it in your back pocket and holding it back there for weeks, months, years,” he explained. “At the firehouse, the guys and girls you work with are going through the same thing. They’re right by your side when you’re going through a hard call and stuff and you can fall back on them.”
There’s bad calls that stick in Porter’s mind.
“We’ve all seen some very horrible, terrible things that we try to hide from most people that aren’t in the fire service because it’s actually just terrifying to think about,” Porter said. “There’s places I don’t like to drive down the road because of certain calls that happened there.”
But there’s also a lot of good calls he remembers, like people who stop by the firehouse just to shake his hand and thank him for saving their life.
“You get to sit down and talk to them about what they’re doing in life and they’re doing everything they did before plus more because they want to live it to the fullest because they know that they have something to be really thankful for,” Porter said. “That goes a long way.”
Michaela Broyles: 843-626-0281, @MichaelaBroyles