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A day in their ambulance: Sumter County EMS takes The Sumter Item behind scenes of their shift

BY SHELBIE GOULDING
shelbie@theitem.com
Posted 11/8/19

When Paramedic Lt. David "Pendy" Pendarvis started his 24-hour shift at 7:45 a.m. Wednesday, EMT Brittany Edwards was already in the middle of her 36-hour shift that started at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

The two were appointed to Medic 7, their ambulance …

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A day in their ambulance: Sumter County EMS takes The Sumter Item behind scenes of their shift

Posted

When Paramedic Lt. David "Pendy" Pendarvis started his 24-hour shift at 7:45 a.m. Wednesday, EMT Brittany Edwards was already in the middle of her 36-hour shift that started at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

The two were appointed to Medic 7, their ambulance for the day, which seemed like a mobile home for the two as they spent most of the shift in it. On this day, they let our videographer, Ty Cornett, and me ride along to see what a day in the life of a Sumter County Emergency Medical Services first responder is like.

The first task in a shift is inspecting your appointed truck. Pendy said they make sure all supplies are accounted for and stocked up and that the truck is emergency-ready.

While Edwards checked the truck's exterior compartments, which consisted of spinal boards, stabilizers and more, Pendy checked the interior, which consisted of medical supplies, medications and more.

Pendy inspected two significant items thoroughly: an orange drug box, which stayed on the truck, and a jump bag, which "jumps" off the truck with him.

The jump bag is a survival kit to a paramedic. It contains medications such as epinephrine, Narcan, aspirin, diabetic emergencies, IVs; equipment such as tools that help open airways, pressure pumps, combat tourniquets (from adult to infant size); and other respiratory and cardiac medications.

Pendy checked all these items to make sure they're in stock and not expired. Once Edwards was done with the exterior, she helped check the interior with Pendy.

Usually, this takes 30 minutes. When finished, they headed into the station to look over reports from the previous shift on their laptops, which folded into a bulky briefcase and went with them on calls.

With seven trucks running on Wednesday's shift, Medic 7 was the last to be called, as the trucks run in numerical order. With time to spare and reports checked, Pendy said the biggest question of the day for this team was what's going to be for lunch and supper. In Edwards' case, it was breakfast.

We hopped in the truck and headed to Shoney's for a quick bite. Sometimes in situations where they're sitting down somewhere to eat, they'll get a call and have to drop their meals and get in the truck. Pendy said they always go back and pay, but I'm not sure how I'd feel leaving my plate of blueberry pancakes and hot cup of joe behind. This is the life of a first responder, though.

Fortunately, the morning was slow, and we got to enjoy our breakfast. When we finished, Medic 3 was called to action, and Pendy wanted to tag along.

A job that takes strength

Edwards said EMS has a required response time. They have to be in the truck and heading to a call within 90 seconds. On time, Edwards turned on the siren and began heading to Alcott Drive in response to a 57-year-old female with a fast heart rate.

As we came across the Liberty Street and Guignard Drive intersection, Edwards yielded and blared a hornlike siren to make people aware of the emergency vehicle, but vehicles ran through the light and failed to stop. Edwards said this happens often.

On scene, Medic 3 was already unloading their stretcher. Both crews went into the residence and checked the patient's vitals and medical history. She requested a transport to Prisma Health Tuomey Hospital for a checkup, and Medic 3 obliged.

Another call came into Medic 3's response area, and since they were busy, we responded to a 33-year-old female with a possible leg fracture on Highview Street.

When we arrived on scene, Edwards slipped on her purple gloves, and Pendy grabbed the jump bag. Together, the two pulled out the hydraulic assist stretcher, which weighed 100-130 pounds, and went into the residence.

This woman also requested a transport to Prisma Health Tuomey Hospital. Edwards said this was considered a non-emergency incident because the patient wasn't in a life-threatening situation.

With that in mind, the team stayed on scene, working on the patient's injury. Pendy used a splint to stabilize her leg before moving her from the residence. I avoided watching this because I get freaked out by broken bones.

Once the patient was ready, they put her on a wheelchair they brought; it was easier to mobilize than the stretcher. Edwards and Pendy carefully carried her down the stairs and strapped her on the stretcher, trying to make her as comfortable as possible.

Together, Edwards and Pendy lifted the stretcher into the truck, which now had the patient's weight on top of the 100-130 pounds. After locking the stretcher in place, the two asked the patient for her medical history, gave her some medication for the pain and made sure she was comfortable before heading to the hospital.

Edwards drove the ambulance while Pendy stayed with the patient, talking to her and keeping her calm during the ride. Edwards warned Pendy when there was a bump or anything in the road that could cause movement in the back.

When we arrived at the hospital, Edwards and Pendy pulled the stretcher out and pushed the patient into the emergency room. The nurses assigned her to a room, and Edwards and Pendy pushed the stretcher inside and transferred her to the bed by lifting the blanket that was under her.

I pointed out that this job must take a lot of muscle.

"Girl," Pendy said, "you don't get this sexy not picking up these stretchers every day."

A job that takes heart

After having a nurse sign off on the patient's report, Pendy put the stretcher back in the truck while Edwards cleaned supplies and reorganized the equipment.

We headed back to the station, but they didn't have long to file the report and rest before another call came for Medic 7.

The middle of the day was when the shift began to pick up.

Edwards and Pendy said the busiest time is usually at night. Ambulances fill the drop-off lane at the hospital. At one point before 2 p.m., there wasn't a single ambulance in the Sumter County EMS parking lot. They were all out on calls.

When asked what made her want to become an EMT, Edwards said, "My brother." Three years ago, she tragically lost him and said the ambulance didn't get there fast enough. She was enrolled in a nursing program at the time and wanted to make a career change to help save those like her brother.

"On a daily basis, you're going to have good calls, and you're going to have bad calls," Edwards said.

Every EMT has a call that gets to them. Edwards reflected on an incident that occurred three months into her EMS job. It was a call that was exactly like her brother's incident - an overdose.

Pendy was her field training officer at the time. He knew this was her call and made sure she was OK throughout the incident. Though Pendy isn't Edwards' training mentor anymore, she said he will always be her mentor in life.

Both Pendy and Edwards work other jobs when off-duty. Edwards continues to work for EMS in Darlington County and for a private transport service, and Pendy is still a field training officer and volunteers at a fire department in Orangeburg County.

"We are extremely busy," Pendy said.

He said he always wanted to be a first responder. He started out as a firefighter, but he wanted to do more. He went through the EMT course and training to become a certified EMT. He then went even further in his training to become a paramedic and training officer.

My takeaway was that to work for EMS, you need to have a strong work ethic, and being an adrenaline junkie helps because you don't know what will happen on a shift or on your next call.

You also need a big heart.

Medic 7 worked with compassion not only for their patients throughout the day, but also for their team members day to day. Life can be unexpected, just like a day behind the wheel of an ambulance.