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Lives lost while aiding others remembered in Follansbee

SERVICE REMEMBERED — Many emergency medical personnel from both sides of the Ohio River turned out to escort and welcome an ambulance crew that made a stop in Follansbee Monday while carrying the National Emergency Medical Service Memorial on a multi-state journey to the Washington, D.C. area. -- Warren Scott

FOLLANSBEE — On Monday afternoon, vehicles from several area emergency departments and a STAT MedEvac medical helicopter converged near the grassy lot at the city’s north end normally used as a launch point for patients requiring urgent treatment.

But this time, the departments weren’t involved in a medical call, coming together instead to remember fellow emergency medical service personnel who lost their lives while helping others.

The various departments turned out to escort and greet an ambulance crew carrying the National Emergency Medical Service Memorial on a multi-state journey to Arlington, Va.

Jana Williams, president of the National EMS Memorial Service, said the group will conduct a service Saturday at Reagan National Airport honoring 72 ambulance squad members and other emergency medical staff who died in the line of duty during the last two years.

She said the service, which will be attended by family members and colleagues of the 72, will be livestreamed through the group’s website at national-ems-memorial.org and posted two weeks later on YouTube.

Williams said knowing that not all EMS staff and their families will be able to attend, the group has made more than 20 stops in several states after embarking from Dallas on July 11 in an ambulance supplied by Global Medical Response, a private emergency medical service provider based in Louisville, Texas.

At each a large sign bearing an illustration of the memorial and the names of the 72 have been displayed.

Williams said the memorial itself, dubbed the Tree of Life, is about 6-feet long and consists of about 16 panels decorated with bronze “leaves.”

Each leaf is inscribed with the name of a fallen EMS worker, the agency he or she served and the date of that individual’s death. The monument was created by Tom and Jenn Liebmann, who work for Global Medical Response.

Williams said it’s actually seen as a temporary tribute, with plans for a larger monument in Washington, D.C., in the works.

The idea of a memorial to fallen EMS workers was initiated in 1991 by members of the Virginia Association of Volunteer Rescue Squads, who noted monuments existed for firefighters and law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty but not for those in their own field.

According to the group’s website, it has since grown to include EMS staff in many states.

Williams said each year, names of fallen EMS staff workers have been added to the memorial, usually between 14 and 20.

She said the pandemic is partly to blame for the higher number of honorees for the last two years, with nearly half the deaths attributed to COVID-19.

“But we don’t like to focus on how they died because we want to elevate any cause of death above others,” said Williams, who stressed the point is to recognize all who put their lives at risk for the wellbeing of others.

A former emergency medical technician for a medical helicopter crew with 37 years in the field, she said, “I have friends on the memorial so this is very meaningful for me.”

Williams said the endeavor also can help to reduce the number of deaths by bringing attention to the causes and possibly spurring preventive measures.

She noted many EMS staff working along roadways have been struck and killed by passing vehicles, so wearing reflective yellow vests has become standard operating procedure.

Jeff Luck, Brooke County deputy EMS director, said Eric Smith, an EMT in his department learned of the memorial and its trek through the Internet and suggested inviting the group, which was planning to lodge in Pittsburgh, to visit Follansbee.

When the National EMS Memorial parked in the lot at the intersection of state Route 2 and Mahan Lane, it was met by paid and volunteer emergency personnel from West Virginia and Ohio.

Members of the Follansbee and Hooverson Heights fire departments draped a U.S. flag over their crossed ladder trucks, a gesture often extended for fallen firefighters.

Among those on hand was Amy Nickerson, wife of Brooke County EMS Director Andy Nickerson and an ambulance squad member for 22 years, who said she and her colleagues face many risks when responding to a call for help.

She said many drivers don’t pull to the right of the road when they see an ambulance approaching, and some speed up or slam on their brakes instead.

But Nickerson and others said they are always ready to put themselves at risk for someone who needs their help.

Jason Nickerson said Weirton Firefighter Brian Ritchie was on a medical call when he contracted COVID-19, leading to his death last year.

He said there are plans to submit Ritchie’s name for inclusion in the Tree of Life.

Clark Crago, director of the TEMS Ambulance Service District in Toronto, said he was pleased to see the memorial.

“Sometimes EMS is forgotten. I think this is a good way to remember them,” he said.

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