by Danielle Tobb ‘17
The best things in life often come when least expect it. For senior Gabe Coxson, becoming a volunteer at the Sandy Spring Volunteer Fire Department (SSVFD) sprouted from a biking accident in eighth grade that left him with a broken hip.
“The station I volunteer at came and picked me up [after my accident], and I told them I would volunteer to give back. I followed through with it and now it’s a passion more than anything,” explained Coxson, who plans to become a career firefighter.
Since the summer before eleventh grade, Coxson has been taking classes such as Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT) Operations, Emergency Medical Training (EMT), and Firefighter 1 to gain the necessary skills to eventually provide patient care on the ambulance.
Coxson currently volunteers on Wednesdays from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. at the station, where he and the crew get dispatched to medical emergencies.
He recalls one vivid memory in which, “it was dispatched as trouble breathing, so we were thinking it was someone who had an asthma attack. When we came around the bend, we saw a car on fire. There was smoke everywhere and a guy lying on the side of the road.” Although the scene sounds hectic, Coxson explains that after going on these calls for a while, he has come to understand that patient care is a priority first and foremost.
A typical day of volunteering entails making sure the gear on the fire engine is assembled correctly. Afterwards, Coxson tries to get some training in and run calls. The traumas he sees vary from week to week.
“Car accidents are the most interesting because they are very dynamic. If it’s in an intersection, we need to move the fire engine in a different way to secure the scene,” noted Coxson.
His main piece of advice to students considering volunteering at the fire department is to commit completely. “It takes a lot of time—you don’t just wake up and become an EMT—it’s hundreds of hours of classes and hard work.”
Coxson added that becoming involved at the fire station is helpful if an individual wants to go the pre-med route in college, as patient contact time is necessary. By becoming an EMT, a student gets just that. Coxson has additionally learned how to administer CPR, how to stay calm in a stressful environment, and how to think on his feet—all skills that are crucial to any profession in the medical field.
“The fire station has taught me time management and how to work with others. As someone who wants to be a firefighter when I’m older, it’s a great learning experience,” said Coxson.