Stow EMS celebrates its 30th birthday this fall
STOW — As he remembers it, Fire Capt. Rick Hohenadel says he and 11 other paramedics were dubbed “The Dirty Dozen” very soon after they were hired 30 years ago.
“It would have been given to us the first month of our employment,” he said. “It was a big change for the fire department.”
The department dates back to 1933, but it took nearly another 60 years for it to make that big change by forming its own EMS in the fall of 1990. Prior to that, it had used a private ambulance company exclusively.
Today, it is unlikely anyone has an issue with it, but three decades ago there was a little resistance by some within the department itself.
“We went from strictly a fire department to an EMS department,” said Hohenadel. “I would say that at least 90 percent of the people greeted us with open arms, but you know how change is. A few of them, it was hard on because it was a much heavier workload. You went from running probably 500 calls a year to, my guess would be, around 2,500 for the first year.”
'An exciting time'
Hohenadel is among just four of The Dirty Dozen still with the department. The others include Capt. Mike Griffin, Lt. Thad Krejci and Firefighter/paramedic David Daniel.
“It was an exciting time,” said Griffin,” not only for me personally because it was my first fire department job and this is my hometown and this is my hometown department, but exciting for the department, too. It was a huge step for us to begin [the EMS], now the lion’s share of the work we do.”
The eight no longer with the department include former Division Chief LouAnn Metz and Mark Martin, who are now fire chiefs in Bainbridge and Perry Township respectively, and David Brunelle, now a minister in Garfield Heights. The others, Capt. Richard Smith, lieutenants Don Ayers and Scott Filpczak, and firefighters Aaron Packard and Mike Greer all retired. Greer is deceased.
Hohenadel said that prior to the hirings, the department totaled fewer than 20 members. The dozen were all paramedics, the highest level of EMS training. But only six were fully trained firefighters while the others needed some part of the 200 hours of training a firefighter needs for a position with the department.
“There were six of us that the city of Stow sent to fire school,” said Daniel.
Hohenadel and Daniel had been volunteer firefighters in Copley, but that only requires 36 hours of training, and Griffin had none.
“I was green as green could be when I was hired,” he said.
On the flip side of that though, said Hohenadel, is that only three of the members on the department before the dozen were hired were paramedics, while the rest were emergency medical technicians. Griffin said the two groups helped each other out as they meshed together.
“It was new for them, too,” he said. “None of them had any experience with EMS and so we kind of got to help them along because all of us had brought some experience and they helped us out with the fire side,” he said.
Griffin said it would over simplify things to say that the dozen were hired and the city immediately had a fully operational EMS. It took time. There were only two city-owned ambulances, so the private ambulance service was retained to transport patients to a hospital. If it was a serious case, what Griffin called a “Code 3 with lights and sirens,” a paramedic would ride in the private ambulance with the patient to the hospital while the city ambulance would return to the station for the next call. He said the 1990s were a “roughly 10-year transitional period.”
“I think around the year 2000, we started doing full transportation,” he said. “We’d take everybody and quit using [the private service].”
Changes in three decades
The three men say there have been a lot of changes in the city during the last three decades.
“It’s been a rewarding career,” said Daniel. “I’ve seen a lot of growth in the community. Retail growth. Industrial growth. Just the size of the city with residents moving into Stow and then the growth of city services to offer more services to the citizens.”
There have also been big changes for the department. Its staffing is now more than 45 members, with all new hires required to be paramedics, and the number of stations increased from two to three when Station 3 was completed on Fishcreek Road in 2003. Changes came to the other stations as well. The current Darrow Road Safety Center, which houses Station 1, as well as the police department and dispatch, replaced a former public safety facility at the Darrow and Kent roads intersection in 1995.
And Station 2 moved from Commerce Drive to Hudson Drive in 2004.
Griffin said in addition to that, the technology and science of both EMS and firefighting has advanced.
“We’ve come a long way in 30 years,” he said.
Griffin said a particularly memorable call for him was the very first EMS call that the department’s paramedics responded to, one that Daniel and Smith were also on. Griffin said then-Mayor Donald Coughlin sat with then-Fire Chief Robert Dauchy for hours that day at the station.
“They wanted to be on the first call because it was going to be such a big moment for us,” he said.
But it was a slow day and it was only after Coughlin and Dauchy left for dinner that the paramedics were dispatched.
“I remember it was a pretty severe shortness of breath call,” said Griffin. “So we kind of hit a pretty critical patient right out of the gate with that. But that always sticks in my mind, being part of that moment.”
Hohenadel said a memorable call for him is one he and other paramedics won the Star of Life award for from the Ohio Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians and the Ohio Department of Public Safety several years ago. City building inspector Tony Catalano was at a home when a middle-aged man he was talking with suddenly collapsed and went into cardiac arrest. Catalano called 911 and performed CPR on the man until paramedics arrived.
“This gentleman was pretty much clinically deceased,” said Hohenadel.
But, he said, paramedics continued performing CPR on the man for an estimated 40 minutes, continuing even after they got him to a hospital.
“All of a sudden, his heart started beating again and that gentleman walked out of the hospital and we still receive thank-you cards from him [yearly],” said Hohenadel, adding, “He’s alive and well today and that call just stuck with me.”
Daniel said his memory of EMS calls is more general.
“There were a lot of traumas,” he said. “There were some saves from full arrests.”
Griffin said that one of the main pleasures of his job has been the people he has worked with.
“The personnel that are here are really first rate,” he said. “I still always enjoy coming to work. I never dread it because I know I’m going to come here and work with quality people who are going to come and do good things.”
Hohenadel said “it’s been a good career.”
“It’s been one of those where you look back and say 'where’d the time go,'” he said. “The first 10 years of my career went really slow and that’s when you’re growing up and doing things. And then all of a sudden, boom, you hit 30. But I’ve had fun here. I can honestly say, not a lot of people can say, I love my job.”
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @JeffSaunders_RP.