When you think of firefighters, what image comes to mind first? Brave men and women running into buildings, apartments and homes caught on fire with the mission of saving everyone and everything they can, and all while trying to extinguish the blaze at hand?
That’s an accurate assumption, but for the firefighters at Rural Metro Fire in Mesa, Arizona, they do that and much more.
The term “public servants” took on a deeper meaning for these service professionals when they answered a routine call on February 5, 2022, to assist in a “fall injury/medical emergency” case at a private residence in a retirement community in Maricopa County.
“Engine 857 (E857) and Rescue 855 (R855) responded to the home with lights and sirens. When we arrived on scene, we found the patient on the floor in the bedroom. There were two little dogs running around the home. There were no sheets on the bed and the master bathroom had human waste all over the room,” said Captain Neil Pavlov, Rural Metro Fire Department, Maricopa / Pinal County Fire Operations.
Captain Pavlov goes on to say the patient, an elderly woman, wasn’t injured and only called because she needed help getting up from the floor and into her bed. However, after looking around her home, it became clear the woman’s need was far greater than just getting up from the floor.
“We told her that it looked like she was struggling to take care of herself and asked if she had friends or family nearby. She stated that her family lived in a different state and that her daughter was trying to help. We also offered to take her to the hospital, but she declined,” said Captain Pavlov.
What happened next was an act of kindness that went far beyond the firefighters call of duty.
“When she refused treatment [at a hospital], we asked if there was anything we could do. That’s when she stated she was hungry and asked if we could cook her something,” said Captain Pavlov. But to Captain Pavlov and his team’s dismay, the kitchen was also in squalid conditions. So, rather than just finding something in the refrigerator for her to eat and then just leave, the entire team rolled up their sleeves and started tidying up the place.
“Without skipping a beat, all personnel on scene went to work, cleaning without being told to do so,” said Captain Pavlov.
From washing dirty dishes stacked in a sink, throwing out trash from an overflowing garbage bin, letting the dogs out to relieve themselves, sanitizing the main bathroom and kitchen area to mopping floors, the firefighters of Engine 857 and Rescue 855 did it all, and even made time to cook the patient eggs and toast.
And while this intervention is not reflective of the teams’ normal job-related responsibilities, no one complained.
“I felt compelled to help because I thought about my own grandparents. What if they were home alone with no one to take care of them, I would want someone to take the initiative to help them out. I believe Rural Metro Fire’s commitment to help its local communities is great. I love being a part of this organization, said Taylor Madson, a paramedic with Rescue 855.
For others, like firefighter Jake Slatalla with Engine 857, respect for his management was also a big factor in this effort. “I think this call all comes down to the leadership from Captain Pavlov and Engineer David DonDero. Getting to work on the crew, I regularly see them do things like this, and it rubs off on the rest of the crew. It’s a perfect example of lead by example.”
As for Captain Pavlov, he said he simply couldn’t walk away, not with the conditions he saw.
“Under normal circumstances, we would have the patient sign a declaration of refusal of treatment of transport to the hospital and leave, but I think we were so compelled to help because we could see that she needed it. Many times, patients of this age do not want to burden their families, so they tell us they have help coming just to get us to leave. In this instance, it sounded like the daughter was trying to get her help,” said Captain Pavlov.
And help did arrive. That evening, Captain Pavlov received a text from the woman’s daughter, saying she found a caregiver to help her mother, six hours a day. Music to their ears, you could say, for Captain Pavlov and the fire and rescue teams, who, in a day’s work, served and protected a member of their community in one of the most generous and selfless ways possible.